Giving children antibiotics before age 2 linked to more health problems later on

ROCHESTER, Minn. — When a young child is sick, parents want to do whatever it takes to make them better. For some illnesses, this means using antibiotics even with infants. A new study however is warning about the dangers of overmedicating children too early in life. Researchers with the Mayo Clinic find kids taking antibiotics before the age of two have a much higher chance of developing several other illnesses and conditions later on.

Study authors say the risk for future childhood problems is even stronger if infants are taking more than one antibiotic. These health issues can include asthma, seasonal allergies, food allergies, weight problems and obesity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), celiac disease, and eczema.

Researchers examined health data on over 14,500 children from the Rochester Epidemiology Project. Their findings reveal nearly 70 percent of children had been given at least one antibiotic prescription before age two. Infants taking multiple prescriptions at this age were increasingly likely to develop some of these problems while going up.

Are antibiotics throwing off nature’s balance?

Study authors believe that even though antibiotics affect the human microbiome for a short time, they may be doing lasting harm during child development. The microbiome consists of genetic material from all the body’s microbes, including healthy bacteria, fungi, and even viruses that live inside every person.

“We want to emphasize that this study shows association ― not causation ― of these conditions,” says senior study author Nathan LeBrasseur in a media release. “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.”

The Mayo Clinic team adds their data shows an increase in the number of these cases among young patients. They aren’t exactly sure why children are beginning to react poorly to antibiotics. Researchers say, aside from the problem of multidrug resistance, pediatricians have continued to work under the assumption that antibiotics are safe even for infants.

The team is now working to create practical recommendations for doctors that can safely guide them when treating younger patients.

The study appears in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.