In a retrospective case study, Mayo Clinic researchers have found that antibiotics administered to children younger than 2 are associated with several ongoing illnesses or conditions, ranging from allergies to obesity. The findings appeared in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
Using health record data from the Rochester Epidemiology Project, researchers analyzed data from 14,572 children (7026 girls and 7546 boys). About 70% of the children had received at least one treatment with antibiotics for illness before age 2.
The researchers found that early exposure to antibiotics was associated with an increased risk of childhood-onset asthma, allergic rhinitis, atopic dermatitis, celiac disease, overweight, obesity, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
The associations were influenced by the number, type, and timing of antibiotic exposure. Moreover, children exposed to antibiotics had a higher probability of having combinations of conditions, particularly when given multiple prescriptions.
Although antibiotics slightly affect the human microbiome, the study found that microbiome perturbations could have long-lasting health consequences including the conditions mentioned above.
"We want to emphasize that this study shows association—not causation—of these conditions. These findings offer the opportunity to target future research to determine more reliable and safer approaches to timing, dosing and types of antibiotics for children in this age group," said Nathan LeBrasseur, the study's senior author in a report published on the Mayo Clinic website.
While recent data show an increase in some of the childhood conditions involved in the study, experts said "they see no reason to stop prescribing antibiotics to children."
LeBrasseur explained that the ultimate goal is to provide practical guidelines for physicians on the safest way to use antibiotics early in life.