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Antibiotics in infancy tied to allergies in childhood, research finds

Posted at 2:16 PM, Dec 20, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-20 17:56:02-05

(WXYZ) — In our Health Alert tonight, a new study finds a link between babies getting antibiotics and developing allergies later in life.

Well, it’s possible that antibiotics are affecting the gut bacteria in babies. And that’s because inside everyone’s gut are millions of tiny microorganisms - which together are called the microbiome. But despite their tiny size, they play a key role in our immune system. Now when we take antibiotics, their job is to kill bad bacteria that are causing infections. Which is good. But the downside is that they can also kill good bacteria. So it’s possible that these changes in the microbiome at such a young age could be what leads to allergies down the road.

Did the researchers note a specific type of antibiotic?

There’s a wide range of antibiotics that are commonly prescribed to infants and an association was found with many of these classes. But the researchers did point out that penicillin, cephalosporin, sulfonamide or macrolide were the key ones that were linked to a higher risk of developing allergies later in life. The highest risk was for penicillin. And the lowest risk was for sulfonamides. Now this doesn’t mean if your child is sick that you should skip antibiotics. Because only an association was found, which means this study did not prove that antibiotics will guarantee allergies later in life.

Did they say what kind of allergies the infants later developed?

Yes, when the researchers analyzed almost 8,000 medical records, they found that children given antibiotics within the first six months of life were more at risk for food allergy, asthma and dermatitis. They noted an 8% risk for food allergy, and up to a 47% risk for asthma. But remember these findings are not set in stone. It’s quite possible that babies who might later in life develop allergies, also be more susceptible to getting bacterial infections when they’re young. The takeaway here, in my opinion, is to only use antibiotics when necessary. So skip them if your child only has a cold, and use them if it’s a bacterial infection.

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