Use of antibiotics in children within the first two years of life increases the risk of eczema and hay fever later in life, reports a recent study.

Though previous studies had linked the early use of antibiotics in children to allergy risks, the results were inconsistent. To resolve the issue, Fariba Ahmadizar and a team from Utrecht University in the Netherlands searched through Web of Science and PubMed databases for studies published from January 1966 to mid-November 2015. They specifically looked for research that focused on the association between use of antibiotics in children during the first two years of life and hay fever or eczema risk in later life.

The researchers selected 22 studies involving 394,517 patients to study eczema risk and 22 studies involving 256,609 participants to study hay fever risk. Twelve of those studies (64,638 patients) had observational data on both conditions.

On analysis, it was found that when children are exposed to antibiotics in early life, the risk of eczema heightened, with a 15 to 41 percent increase. Early life antibiotic consumption also resulted in an increased risk of hay fever by 14 percent to 56 percent. The risk of eczema and hay fever were found to be higher when the children were given two or more courses of antibiotics for the conditions.

Though the reason behind the findings is unclear, the researchers suggest that the antibiotics could be altering the immune system of young children by disrupting the microorganisms in the gut.

"Early life exposure to antibiotics is related to an increased risk of both eczema and hay fever later in life," concluded Ahmadizar about the study findings.

The study was presented at the European Respiratory Society International Congress in London, UK, on Sept. 6.

Hay fever or allergic rhinitis, though exhibiting cold-like symptoms, is not caused by a virus or any microbe. It is an allergic reaction to allergens such as dust mites, pollen, saliva of cats and dogs, tiny flecks of skin and animal fur. Itchy eyes, runny nose, sneezing, congestion and sinus pressure are the symptoms of hay fever.

People suffering from hay fever may experience a reduced quality of life. Symptoms like itchy eyes and congestion may affect a person's performance at school or work. Prolonged congestion may result in sinusitis and symptoms like wheezing and coughing may intensify asthma. Patients may experience disturbed or poor sleep and children may develop ear infections.

Eczema or atopic dermatitis is caused by inflammation and the symptoms include itchy, red and dry skin. Steroid creams and oral medications are used to treat the condition.

Photo: Niels Olson | Flickr

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