Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Asthma Health Center

Font Size

Infants and Antibiotics: Asthma Risk?

Research Suggests Link Between Antibiotic Use by Infants and Development of Asthma

More Findings continued...

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 child's immunity.

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 says.

Second Opinion

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 antibiotic."

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 problems.

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.

  • Are medical studies confusing or helping you become a confident parent? Does medical opinion bolster or attack your parental confidence when it comes to spotting sickness or promoting wellness in your kid? Share your thoughts on WebMD's Parenting: Friends Talking message board.

When Is Your Asthma Worse?

When Is Your Asthma Worse?

Take the WebMD Asthma assessment to get Personalized Action Plan

Start Now

Today on WebMD

Distressed woman
Woman holding an asthma inhaler
Get Personalized Asthma Advice
Health Check
asthma overview
Los Angeles skyline in smog
man in a field with allergies
Woman holding inhaler
Slideshow Allergy Myths and Facts

Pollen counts, treatment tips, and more.

It's nothing to sneeze at.

Loading ...

Sending your email...

This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.


Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

Man outdoors coughing
Lung and bronchial tube graphic
10 Worst Asthma Cities