Childhood Food Allergy Diagnoses Associated with Prescription Antibiotic Use

Childhood food allergy diagnoses have been associated with the use of prescription antibiotics during the first year of life.

Senior Airman Catherine Settles wipes allergens from a baby’s back after a skin prick test. Source: US Air Force

The likelihood of receiving a childhood food allergy diagnosis has been associated with the use of prescription antibiotics during the first year of life.

Researchers from the University of South Carolina and University of Mississippi Medical Center used medicaid administrative data from South Carolina to show that the exposure of infants less than one year old to systemic prescription antibiotics could contribute to the onset of food allergies in later childhood. This matched case-control study compared 1504 children with food allergies and 5995 healthy controls born between 2007 and 2009, eliminating variability associated with birth month/year, sex, and race/ethnicity. The adjusted odds ratio of food allergy diagnosis was modeled via conditional logistic regression and all statistical analyses were fine-tuned to account for asthma, wheezing, or atopic dermatitis, enabling the researchers to focus on specifically relating food allergy diagnoses to antibiotic use.

The likelihood of receiving a food allergy diagnosis significantly increased for infants that received five or more antibiotic prescriptions and was greatest for infants that took cephalosporin and sulfonamide antibiotics. These findings may be attributed to alterations in the gut microbiome during childhood, which could have far-reaching consequences on the functionality and tolerance of the immune system. The gut microbiome is increasingly recognized to shape the responsiveness of our immune system to foreign matter such as food, and disrupting the healthy composition of bacterial species in the intestines via antibiotic use could be particularly damaging during childhood, a period when the human immune system is rapidly maturing.

Stay aware of breaking immunology research by subscribing to our weekly newsletter.

Love BL, Mann JR, Hardin JW, et al. (2016) Antibiotic prescription and food allergy in young children. Allergy, Asthma & Clinical Immunology, 12(41).