Fort Worth, Texas,
09:28 AM

New Study Says Antacids, Antibiotics for Infants May Cause Allergies Later in Life

Dr. Diane looks at new pediatric research of why some kids have higher chance for eczema, asthma, food/medicine allergies

An interesting study came out in the JAMA Pediatrics journal this week. It’s caused a lot of worrisome headlines.

I read the paper during my lunch hour this week. It seems to be a decent study (sometimes studies aren’t that good. Remember that the next time you see an inflammatory headline and try to always read the study, or at least the fine print, for yourself!)

The researchers claim that children who are given antacids or antibiotics in the first six months of life are more prone to “allergic conditions” – like allergies, eczema, asthma, food/medicine allergies, and so on.

The study looked at over 790,000 kids in the Military Health System database from 2001 to 2013. It was a pretty big study.

What it concluded was that if a child got an antacid medication (like Ranitidine or Lansoprazole, amongst others) or an antibiotic (Amoxicillin, Augmentin, Bactrim), the kiddo had a higher chance for those problems listed above.

Antacids in the first 6 months doubled the chance of food allergy. Antibiotics doubled the chance of asthma.

The general thought is that antacid medications and antibiotics mess with our “gut biome.” Those are the living organisms in our gut that help us digest food and help our immune system to know friend from foe.

We want lots of different “good gut bugs” living in there to help us out. When you use antacids or antibiotics early in life, the theory is that this diversity is reduced.

As a mom, I asked myself, “Did those two months my son was on ranitidine cause him to have his awful cantaloupe allergy?” The guilty feelings were already sinking in.

Stop right there! Let’s not feel guilty about this. We are always learning and medicine is always changing. Let’s move forward. Yes this study seems solid, but what questions can we ask about their study methods?

Maybe we’d have more knowledge of a true connection if each individual medication was studied, instead of all of them lumped together?

Maybe kids who deal with reflux or infections as babies are just more prone to allergies and illness in general later on in life?

Are military families living in or with environmental conditions which may predispose the kiddos to allergic conditions?

I don’t know the answers to these questions. But boy, is this article making me think!

Like any “big discovery,” do we need more studies on this same topic to reduce any bias and truly know if there is a connection between these medications and allergies? Absolutely. We’ve done similar studies on animals in the past, but now it’s time to do more studies on humans.

For me, as a pediatrician, I’m going to walk through these risks with my patients a little more thoroughly.

Children with reflux suffer. I watched it happen in my own kid. Do some of them need the antacids to survive? Absolutely (some kids lose weight with reflux). Will I try to talk parents of children with more “mild” cases of reflux out of it? Probably.

Children with bacterial infections need antibiotics. Will I make sure to be certain to use the “least strong” antibiotic I can muster so as not to kill off too many of the important gut biome? Absolutely.

This article will no doubt cause some strong opinions. If, in the end, we are using less medication to treat our children’s mild infant illness, I think it will be better for everyone. I look forward to reading more research on this in the future!


Get to know Diane Arnaout, M.D.

Dr. Diane Arnaout joined the Cook Children's Willow Park practice in 2011. You can stay connected with Dr. Arnaout and the Willow Park practice on Facebook. Dr. Arnaout was born and raised in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. She attended college at Texas A&M University and medical school at the UT Health Science Center in San Antonio. She did her pediatric internship and residency at Children's Memorial Hermann Hospital and M.D. Anderson at the Texas Medical Center in Houston, TX where she served as a leader on the medical education committees. She is a board-certified pediatrician. Click to learn more.

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