Antibiotics for infants may lead to food allergies later

September 6, 2016 Providence Health Team

Health officials have sounded the alarm about the dangers of overprescribing antibiotics: The drugs can lead to the breeding supergerms that resist medications.

Now a study from South Carolina suggests that when a child receives antibiotics in the first 12 months of life, he or she is more likely to develop a food allergy. And the likelihood increases for children who receive more than one antibiotic.

The findings “offer a plausible hypothesis for increasing food allergy prevalence since increased antibiotic use is common in many westernized countries,” the authors wrote. But they cautioned that more research is needed among more diverse populations than the one they examined – South Carolinians on Medicaid.

In other words, if your child has a peanut allergy at age 10, it may be tied to the antibiotics he received as an infant.

Antibiotics and the child’s immune system

Over the last seven decades, antibiotics have greatly reduced illnesses and deaths caused by infectious disease. But they have been so widely used for so long that bacteria are becoming resistance to them.

Physicians still prescribe them, because they still work in many situations. But increasingly, they prescribe them only when they are truly necessary. (And when they are prescribed, patients must be diligent about taking all the pills prescribed.)

Antibiotics are used to treat bacteria-caused sicknesses such as strep throat or ear infections.  The study’s authors found that the most commonly prescribed to infants in their South Carolina study were:

  • Penicillin (38.2 percent of 9,324 prescriptions)
  • Cephalosporin (15.1 percent)
  • Macrolide (13.1 percent)
  • Sulfonamide (5.4 percent)

The authors note that antibiotics affect “gut flora,” the complex of microorganisms in the gastrointestinal tract, and that such organisms play an important role in the development of the immune system.

More reading on antibiotics and antibiotic resistance

The South Carolina study, “Antibiotic prescription and food allergy in young children,” was published in the journal Allergy, Asthma & Clinical Immunology.

Much has been published about the dangers that could loom in a “post-antibiotic world.” You could start with our recent post “More problems with antibiotic resistance.”

The CDC has assembled a wealth of information on its page “Antibiotic/Antimicrobial Resistance.”

If you or your child is sick, talk to your health care provider about the safest way to treat the illness. Discuss whether perhaps the illness can be treated without antibiotics.

You can find a Providence provider in our multistate directory.

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