COLUMBIA, S.C., Sept. 1 (UPI) -- The rise in food allergies may be caused by children being treated with antibiotics too early in their lives, according to a new study.
Children given antibiotics before their first birthday are at higher risk for developing food allergies and the risk increases with each course of treatment, report researchers at the University of South Carolina in the journal Allergy, Asthma and Clinical Immunology.
Between 4 percent and 8 percent of children have food allergies. The allergies increased in prevalence by 18 percent from 1997 to 2007, however, and the number of hospitalizations of food allergies increased by three times from 1998 to 2006.
Prescriptions for the drugs for children have increased over the same period food allergies have, which the researchers say may be caused by antibiotic drugs altering the microbiota of children.
For the study, the researchers identified 1,504 children with a food allergy and 5,995 controls without an allergy, analyzing their medical records for antibiotic prescriptions any time before turning 1. A total of 9,324 antibiotics were prescribed among both groups.
Children given the drugs within their first year of life were 21 percent more likely to be diagnosed with an allergy than those not treated with antibiotics.
The risk for an allergy also increased the more times children were treated with antibiotics. Children receiving three prescriptions were 31 percent more likely to have an allergy, those with four prescriptions were 43 percent more likely and five or more prescriptions increased the risk by 64 percent.
The most common allergy diagnosis among children was dermatitis, followed by gastroenteritis and colitis and anaphylaxis. Although the majority of cases identified by researchers did not have a specific food allergy, the most common identified were milk, egg, peanut and seafood.
"We need better diagnostic tools to help identify kids who truly need antibiotics," Dr. Bryan Love, a researcher at the University of South Carolina, said in a press release. "Overusing antibiotics invites more opportunity for side effects, including the potential development of food allergies, and can encourage antibacterial resistance."