Do Antibiotics Increase the Risk of Childhood Food Allergies?

Do Antibiotics Increase the Risk of Childhood Food Allergies?

Approximately one in 13 children have food allergies, and the number of children who suffer from food allergies has significantly increased in the past two decades. Most children with food allergies are diagnosed early on, even some as young as infancy when they have a reaction to their mother’s milk or to formula. Different theories, from genetics to the hygiene hypothesis, have been tossed around as potential causes or risk factors. And now recent research study results have revealed a new possible cause of the increase in food allergies among children: antibiotics.

Antibiotics are prescribed for not only the treatment but also the prevention of bacterial infections. However, it is important for children, especially newborns, to be exposed to some bacteria to strengthen their immune systems. In many cases, antibiotics are prescribed to children as a preventative measure, when an infection isn’t necessarily present or when a doctor has difficulty distinguishing between a viral and a bacterial infection. Not that being cautious is a bad thing, but perhaps if antibiotics weren’t prescribed so frequently for prevention, then it may be possible for children’s immune systems to strengthen as they need to.

The Study

The purpose of a recent study was to determine if there is a relationship between antibiotics being prescribed within the first year of life and a food allergy diagnosis among those children. This was a matched case-control study that examined data from South Carolina Medicaid records. Children born between 2007 and 2009 who had food allergies were matched to control subjects without food allergies. Factors also considered were birth month and year, gender, ethnicity, maternal age and residence, the presence of asthma or eczema, and whether the children were breastfed.

1,504 cases of children who had food allergies, and 5,995 cases of children who did not have food allergies, were studied. The results of the study revealed that children who were prescribed antibiotics before they turned one year of age were 1.21 times more likely to have a food allergy diagnosis than children who had not been prescribed antibiotics. Furthermore, cases where antibiotics were prescribed more frequently saw a greater increase in food allergy diagnosis.

Of the 1,504 food allergy cases, only 15 percent of the children were prescribed epinephrine and only 20 percent were diagnosed by an allergist or immunologist. Most of the cases did not specify an allergen, but in those where an allergen was specified, the common allergens were milk, egg, peanut and seafood.

Approximately 9,300 antibiotics were prescribed among both children with food allergies and children without.  Penicillin, cephalosporin, macrolide and sulfonamides were the most commonly used antibiotics. More of the control group were not prescribed antibiotics during their first year of life than children who had a food allergy diagnosis.

The full case study was published in the Journal of Allergy, Asthma & Clinical Immunology in August of 2016.

In conclusion, research did indeed show that there was link found between children who had food allergies who were also prescribed antibiotics before their first birthday. This does not necessarily mean that antibiotics cause food allergies or cause an increase in them; it just means that there was enough scientific data to support that the two instances could be related.

As always, discuss any questions or concerns that you may have with your child’s doctor or allergist.


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