Pre- and post-natal exposure to antibiotics and the development of eczema, recurrent wheezing and atopic sensitization in children up to the age of 4 years
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Background Little data are available on the relationship between indirect antibiotic exposure of the child in utero or during lactation and allergic diseases. On the other hand, several studies have been conducted on the association with direct post-natal antibiotic exposure, but the results are conflicting. Objective The aim of this study was to investigate pre- and post-natal antibiotic exposure and the subsequent development of eczema, recurrent wheeze and atopic sensitization in children up to the age of 4 years. Methods We conducted an aetiologic study in 773 children based on a prospective birth cohort project in which environmental and health information were collected using questionnaires. Antibiotic exposure was assessed as maternal antibiotic intake during pregnancy and during lactation and as medication intake of the child. The chronology of exposures and outcomes was taken into account during the data processing. At the age of 1 and 4 years, a blood sample was taken for the quantification of specific IgE. Results Prenatal antibiotic exposure was significantly positively associated with eczema, whereas no association was found with recurrent wheeze and atopic sensitization. We found a positive, although statistically not significant, association between antibiotic exposure through breastfeeding and recurrent wheeze. Neither eczema nor atopic sensitization was significantly associated with antibiotic exposure through breastfeeding. Finally, we observed a negative association between the use of antibiotics in the first year of life and eczema and atopic sensitization, and also between antibiotic use after the first year of life and recurrent wheeze, eczema and atopic sensitization. Conclusion Indirect exposure to antibiotics (in utero and during lactation) increases the risk for allergic symptoms in children, while direct exposure to antibiotics appears to be protective. The biological mechanisms underlying these findings still need to be elucidated.