There may be a connection between the over-prescribing of antibiotics and a marked increase in the occurrence of allergies. There has been a recent push to make patients aware of the overuse of antibiotics and the fact that it can lead to drug-resistant bacteria. Now, scientists have found more complications due to physicians who play fast and loose with the prescription pad.
There have been several studies published in medical journals noting the recent increase of all types of allergic reactions. Reparatory allergies, skin allergies, and food allergies -- to name a few -- have been seen in greater numbers. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology reports that nearly 40%-50% of all school-aged children suffer from some sort of allergy. This is not only a problem in the US but globally.
Why do antibiotics get part of the blame in all of this? In short, antibiotics are not picky; they kill good and bad bacteria alike. While we appreciate them for their infection-fighting powers, we need to be aware that they can also knock our systems out of whack. Take the flora in our guts for example: the “gut microbiome,” as it is called, plays a part in the development of our immune system. When our “good” gut bacteria becomes out of balance due to antibiotics, our immune system may not develop properly. This may be due, in part, to a lack of diversity in our gut bacteria. Thus, we do not develop the correct immune responses. This means that what should be harmless to us is viewed by our immune system as an allergen. Even the antibiotics a mother takes can affect the development of her child’s immune system.
European research shows that diversity of microbes can lead to fewer occurrences of allergic responses. A study that compared children who grew up on farms with those that did not revealed that those who grow up on farms have 70% lower rates for allergy and asthma.
While overuse of antibiotics is an issue, it appears that the number of physicians that actually over-prescribe is comparatively small. IFLScience cites a study that reveals “only 10% of physicians prescribed antibiotics to 95% of their patients with upper respiratory tract infections.”
What is being done to combat this issue? Congress has passed the 21st Century Cures bill, which provides incentives for providers that use newer antibiotics. As patients and consumers, we need to educate ourselves and choose responsible providers. We need to better understand when the use of antibiotics is necessary and when it isn’t. Talking to our doctors and asking simple questions regarding their choices around prescribing antibiotics is a great place to start. Allergic reactions can be fatal, and allergies are no small issue.