Babies prescribed a course of antibiotics before 6 months of age could have their risk of developing asthma increased by 40%, say researchers from Yale University.
For babies given a second course of antibiotics before they’re 6 months old, the asthma risk goes up to 70%, the new study suggests.
The study is not the first to indicate early antibiotics use could play some kind of role in asthma, though experts have been at odds over whether it’s the medicine to blame or whether the children receiving the antibiotics are already more likely to develop asthma. Some young children are given antibiotics for chest infections, and it’s been argued that these could be an indication that asthma’s already developing.
However, in this latest study of 1,400 children, the researchers included those prescribed antibiotics for problems that weren’t chest-related and also those with parents who didn’t have a history of asthma. The increased asthma risk seemed to exist even if they’d never suffered a chest infection and didn’t have asthma in the family.
“The findings from our study should encourage doctors to avoid unnecessary antibiotic use, especially in low-risk children,” said Dr Kari Risnes, reports the Telegraph.
So how do antibiotics increase the risk? Well, the researchers think that the antibiotics could disturb the balance of microbes in the gut – these help keep illness at bay. The study said, “Very early microbial exposure, particularly in the intestinal tract, seems necessary for a mature and balanced immune system in childhood.
“Antibiotic use, especially broad spectrum antibiotics, may alter microbial flora in the gut, thereby causing imbalances in the immune system and a poor allergic response.”
You can find out more about childhood asthma in our health section.