Antibiotics and Asthma, an Adverse Relationship?

Antibiotics linked to increase in asthma rates and symptom severity in children

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) The rise of childhood asthma may be linked to antibiotic use. A new study focused on how antibiotics may prevent healthy immune system development leading to new cases of asthma.

Two commonly used antibiotics that are used to treat intestinal inflammation were linked to an increased risk of developing allergic asthma and increasing asthma severity in mouse models.

The two antibiotics did not affect adult asthma rates or severity of symptoms. Researchers believe that immune system development during childhood is crucial and that antibiotics may negatively affect healthy immune system growth leading to an increased risk of asthma.

"Ask your doctor about risks linked to childhood asthma development."

The study was led by Dr. Brett Finlay, a microbiologist from the University of British Columbia. Researchers investigated the use of the antibiotics, streptomycin and vancomycin, and their affect on asthma development in children. Researchers believe the antibiotics alter proper “gut flora,” the bacteria and other organisms inside the gut, and this prevents healthy immune system development.

Streptomycin is used to treat tuberculosis and other types of infections caused by bacteria. Vancomycin is commonly prescribed for colitis, or intestinal inflammation.

According to the researchers, the increased prevalence of asthma may be due to antibiotic use in children. Over 100 million people have asthma and the number of cases have increased by 50 percent each decade, note researchers. The use of antibiotics, especially in developed countries, may prevent the immune system from developing because it changes the gut flora.

The bacteria found in the gut may play a larger role in developing a healthy immune system.

The lungs are connected to the gut by nearly 100 trillion microorganisms that are found in the gut flora, notes the study. In other countries where antibiotic use is not as common, the asthma rates and severity are not as high as developed countries where antibiotic use is prevalent.

There are numerous factors to consider when discussing the rise of asthma in children and antibiotics may be one additional factor researchers should focus on. Antibiotics may prevent the immune system from developing because it eliminates certain bacteria. Future studies could examine antibiotic use in children and determine any association.

Additional studies would be needed to determine just how antibiotics affect asthma development and what bacteria in particular may be linked to asthma development.

The study was funded by grants from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research in association with Canadian Microbiome Initiative, and partners Genome BC and the Allergy, Genes and Environment Network.

The study was published in the March edition of EMBO Reports.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
March 19, 2012
Last Updated:
March 26, 2012