Babies given antibiotics may be more susceptible to chronic illnesses

Children given antibiotics before the age of two may be more likely to suffer from allergies, asthma and other chronic illnesses, study finds

  • US experts analysed the health records and prescription history of 14,500 kids
  • Some 70 per cent of the children were given antibiotics before the age of two
  • Those given multiple courses were more likely to have multiple chronic illnesses

Children may be more likely to suffer from chronic illnesses like allergies, asthma, eczema and obesity if given antibiotics before the age of two, a study has warned.

US researchers analysed the health records of 14,500 children and found a correlation between chronic illness and early antibiotic use.

The team have speculated that the antibiotics — while used to help fight off ‘bad’ bacteria — can impact the beneficial microbes that make up our gut microbiome. 

Allergies — which are the most common chronic disorder among children — affect more than one-in-four people in the UK at some point in their lives.

Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections like urinary tract infections, but are not effective against viruses such as the common cold or coronavirus.

Children may be more likely to suffer from chronic illnesses like allergies, asthma, eczema and obesity if given antibiotics, pictured, before the age of two, a study has warned (stock image)

‘We want to emphasise that this study shows association not causation of these conditions,’ said paper author and physiologist Nathan LeBrasseur of the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.

‘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,’ he added.

In their study, Professor LeBrasseur and colleagues analysed the health records of more than 14,500 children — around 70 per cent of whom had been treated with antibiotics before the age of two.

The team found that these children appeared more likely to develop chronic illnesses — including asthma, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, celiac disease, eczema, food allergies, hay fever, obesity and weight issues.

‘While recent data show an increase in some of the childhood conditions involved in the study, experts are not sure why,’ said Professor LeBrasseur.

‘Other than the issue of multidrug resistance, antibiotics have been presumed safe by most paediatricians.’

Those babies who had received multiple courses of antibiotics were more likely to have more than one chronic condition during their childhood, the team also noted.

The types of illness suffered varied dependant on the child’s age, the kind of antibiotics they were on and how many doses they were given.

‘The ultimate goal is to provide practical guidelines for doctors on the safest way to use antibiotics early in life,’ Professor Dr LeBrasseur added.

NHS guidelines on the use of antibiotics in children caution parents to make sure that they know how often and in what doses the drugs should be given.

But such also notes that children ‘don’t often’ need antibiotics.

In fact, recent studies have suggested that more than 20 per cent of all antibiotic prescriptions in the UK could be classified as inappropriate.

Although there are over 100 types of antibiotic, one of the most commonly prescribed is amoxicillin — used to treat assorted conditions including middle ear infections, strep throat, skin infections, pneumonia and urinary tract infections.

The full findings of the study were published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 


Antibiotic resistance is accelerated by the misuse and overuse of antibiotics, as well as poor infection prevention and control. 

Steps can be taken at all levels of society to reduce the impact and limit the spread of resistance.

Individuals can: 

  • Only use antibiotics when prescribed by a certified health professional
  • Never demand antibiotics if your health worker says you don’t need them
  • Always follow your health worker’s advice when using antibiotics
  • Never share or use leftover antibiotics
  • Prevent infections by regularly washing hands, preparing food hygienically, avoiding close contact with sick people, practising safer sex, and keeping vaccinations up to date
  • Prepare food hygienically, following the WHO Five Keys to Safer Food (keep clean, separate raw and cooked, cook thoroughly, keep food at safe temperatures, use safe water and raw materials) and choose foods that have been produced without the use of antibiotics for growth promotion or disease prevention in healthy animals

Source: World Health Organisation

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