The Connection between Allergies and Antibiotics
Tiana Thich, HK BioTek Intern
Antibiotics are lifesaving treatments that are prescribed to combat bacterial infections. They are powerful drugs that slow the growth of bacteria so that the body’s own immune system can come in and attack the bacteria, therefore ceasing the infection. Uncontrolled use of antibiotics can lead to antibiotic resistance and onset of more intense diseases. Antibiotic resistance is when the bacteria in the body become resistant to the antibiotic so that it does not work anymore and a stronger more potent antibiotic must be used to kill the bacteria. In recent years, there have been appearances of “super bacteria” that are immune to all antibiotics and therefore cannot be cured by modern medicine. Antibiotics are extremely strong medicines that help nurse our bodies back to health however, they can also have unintentionally harmful effects on gut microbiota and the immune system as a whole. These effects on the immune system can affect immune system development and even long-term food intolerances.
In a study led by the US Department of Epidemiology and Health Services Research by Annemarie Hirsch and associates, childhood antibiotic use was compared to the subsequent allergies recorded in electronic health records. An identified group of 30,000 children up to the age of 7 from Geisinger Clinic in Pennsylvania, United States were identified with milk allergies, non-milk food allergies, and other allergies. Afterwards, they took note of the total antibiotic orders for each child and compared the amount of antibiotics taken with the number of allergies the child has developed in the past seven years. Results showed strong associations between amount of antibiotics and milk, non-milk food, and other allergies. This means that there is a strong correlation between antibiotics and future developing allergies and further linking their association to one another. Furthermore, it is hypothesized that this positive correlation between increased antibiotic use and increased number of allergies is due to changes in the gut biome. Scientific evidence suggests that changes in the gut microbiome are associated with increased risk of immediate allergies which is why it is important to make sure we protect the gut microbiota in its most essential developing years.
Results from this study looked directly at IgE allergic reactions in relation to antibiotics prescribed. Therefore, when considering the results, it is important to understand that IgA/IgG food sensitivities were not observed in this study. For parents concerned about their children’s health, it is important to understand that antibiotics should only be used for bacterial infections. Parents should talk to their child’s pediatrician when an antibiotic is prescribed to understand the child’s illness fully. Many common illnesses such as colds or fevers are caused by viruses, which cannot be treated with antibiotics. Antibiotics should only be treated when they are truly necessary to combat bacterial diseases and should not be prescribed or used in any other setting. If your child is sick, it is important to consult with your healthcare provider for the best possible treatment plan and understand the treatment as a parent. To avoid bacterial infections, always encourage children and family members to practice good hygiene practices such as washing hands, vaccinating children, and taking care of one’s health.
Hirsch, A. G., et al. “Early-Life Antibiotic Use and Subsequent Diagnosis of Food Allergy and Allergic Diseases.” Clinical & Experimental Allergy, vol. 47, no. 2, 2016, pp. 236–244., doi:10.1111/cea.12807.
“Curb Antibiotic Abuse in Children.” Stanford Children's Health - Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford, www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=curb-antibiotic-abuse-in-children-1-2165.