Researchers from the Karolinska Institutet have dismissed the idea of a causal link between antibiotic use in early life and childhood asthma.
Previous studies have demonstrated that if a mother is given antibiotics during her gestational period or a small child is given antibiotics early in life, then the child has an increased risk for developing asthma. However, cohort and sibling control analyses recently published in BMJ now suggest that there is no reasonable causal connection between antibiotic use and childhood asthma.
Sometimes, asthma symptoms in a young child can be misinterpreted as a respiratory infection, the study authors explained. Once a child receives an antibiotic for a misdiagnosed respiratory infection, it is suspected that the antibiotic caused the subsequent asthma.
Another explanation the researchers offered is that respiratory infections are risk factors for asthma, regardless of whether or not they are treated with antibiotics.
In the cohort analyses of 493,785 children born in Sweden between January 2006 and December 2010, antibiotics used to treat respiratory infections in childhood were associated with an increased risk of asthma. However, that excess risk decreased considerably in sibling analyses. In addition, the less pronounced associations between childhood asthma and antibiotics for urinary tract infections and skin conditions seen in the cohort analyses disappeared in the sibling analyses.
“Our results indicate that there is no causal link between antibiotics treatment and childhood asthma, but it is still important to use antibiotics very carefully, considering the threat of antibiotic resistance,” study author Catarina Almqvist Malmros said in a press release.