Infants and Antibiotics: Asthma Risk?
Research Suggests Link Between Antibiotic Use by Infants and Development of Asthma
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The researchers found that for children who got the medications for
nonrespiratory infections, the risk of getting asthma by age 7 was nearly twice
as likely as children who got no antibiotics from birth to age 1 year.
The finding strengthens the idea that early antibiotic use and asthma are
linked, Kozyrskyj says. "In that case you can't say maybe [the asthma] was
due to the respiratory tract infection."
If the household of children taking multiple medication courses did not have
a dog, the children's risk of getting asthma doubled, she found.
"Dogs bring in different germs," she says. And that could strengthen a
In the study, cats didn't offer the same effect, she says, and may actually
boost risk, although the evidence for that in the study was weak.
Explaining the Link
Exactly why the early antibiotic use may boost asthma risk later isn't
certain, Kozyrskyj says. She speculates that because antibiotics can kill off
the microflora (natural bacteria) in your intestinal tract, "it may change
your immune system, making you more vulnerable to developing asthma."
Still, she emphasizes, asthma is a complex disease. "It's also genetic.
We've identified one factor." But many factors underlie the condition, she
One strength of the study, according to an allergist not involved in it, is
that the researchers found the link held up between antibiotics and asthma not
just for the children who were treated for respiratory infections.
"The researchers make the argument that these kids [treated for
nonrespiratory infections] were not destined for asthma" yet developed it
after the antibiotic treatment, says William Anderson, MD, a board-certified
allergist in Bellingham, Wash.
Advice for Parents
When your child has an infection and your child's doctor suggests an
antibiotic, what’s best? "A parent might question the need for an
antibiotic," Anderson says, and ask about other options. But, he
emphasizes, "there are cases when a kid really needs an
Kozyrskyj agrees that antibiotics are sometimes crucial, although she notes
the trend among physicians and pediatric groups is to encourage more judicious
use of antibiotics due to antibiotic resistance and other potential
But, Kozyrskyj says, if your child does need an antibiotic, you can ask your
child's doctor if it is possible to use a narrow-spectrum antibiotic rather
than a broad-spectrum (effective against a wider range of bacteria)
cephalosporin (a class of antibiotics). In her study, she also found that
broad-spectrum cephalosporin antibiotics (such as Ceftin and Cefzil) boosted
the risk of getting asthma more than other antibiotics.
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