The focus of the £10m Longitude prize was announced this week, the focus will be tackling antibiotics resistance, you can read more about it here.
Coincidentally we finished a survey in our research group for Children’s Allergy Network where we looked at antibiotics use in pregnancy, during breast feeding and in the first years of life.
The results can be seen on the Facebook CAN Research page.
The survey group was small, so no major conclusions were drawn, but the overwhelming take home message was that parents and babies alike seemed to be prescribed antibiotics in great quantities (both those with allergies and those without).
Of the children described only 13% were not exposed to antibiotics during pregnancy, breastfeeding or in the first year of life. As both of my children were included in that statistic it seemed like such a low figure.
There were also 2 children who were exposed to antibiotics in all three categories, (in pregnancy, breast feeding and in the first year of life).
We did not ask why the antibiotics were prescribed in each case, but we speculated that in some cases excessive antibiotics use in the allergy children group was for symptoms associated with undiagnosed food allergy. There are a lot of symptoms of allergy, such as stomach problems, ear infections, rashes and general ill health for which antibiotics may have been prescribed in error by the GP.
Our Personal Experience
My allergic daughter wasn’t prescribed antibiotics until the age of 3 for what the GP diagnosed as a viral wheeze. I didn’t want to give them to her as I felt it was asthma and also that antibiotics don’t kill viruses. I felt that Anya already had eczema, food allergies and seasonal rhinitis and was following the allergic march where asthma would be the final atopic condition for her to complete the family so to speak.
We agreed to try and the antibiotics had no effect as I expected. The GP refused to make a diagnosis of asthma as she was too young. Eventually after a stressful few weeks she was hospitalised and we were finally given preventer and reliever inhalers and now see the asthma nurse regularly.
I wonder if this was the case for other allergy families? We are always told to reduce the amount of antibiotics we take to reduce the likelihood of antibiotic resistance strains developing, but it was the GP in our case that pushed us to take them.
Is there evidence for excessive antibiotics use causing allergy and asthma?
Some evidence, yes, there have been a lot of studies with asthma and antibiotics which have shown an increase in antibiotics use leads to either an increased incidence or asthma, or a greater severity of asthma.
Food allergy, as we have previously found, is less well studied. Diagnosis for food allergy in these studies are generally reliant on skin prick tests, although the results of these are not particularly accurate. There seems to be less of a correlation between antibiotics use in infancy and food allergy. I have linked to lots of free to view articles on the subject at the end of this post.
What can we do?
Ultimately it may be up to those in the medical profession to limit their prescriptions for antibiotics and not dole them out when they are unable to make a proper diagnosis, but you can question your GP when they are prescribed if you feel that they are not appropriate for your condition (if you have a viral infection). There is a great organisation that promotes reducing the use of antibiotics, check them out here, www.antibiotic-action.com and follow them on Twitter for their newsfeed.
If you are concerned about you or your child’s health you should contact your GP or health professional in the first instance
The ‘hygiene hypothesis’ for autoimmune and allergic diseases: an update, April 2010, Clinical and Experimental Immunology (paper in full)
The gut microbiota and its role in the development of allergic disease: a wider perspective, March 2014, Clinical and Experimental Allergy (Abstract only)
Early life antibiotic-driven changes in microbiota enhance susceptibility to allergic asthma, March 2012, Embo Reports (paper in full)
Perinatal antibiotic treatment affects murine microbiota, immune responses and allergic asthma, 1 October 2013, Embo Reports
Impact of perinatal antibiotic exposure on the infant gut microbiota at one year of age, October 2013, Allergy, Asthma & Clinical Immunology