The number of adults and children who suffer from allergies or asthma has been on the rise for several decades. According to the WHO, the number of people with asthma is 235 million worldwide, and it’s now the most common chronic disease among children. In the US, the number of sufferers has skyrocketed in the last three decades. As for allergies, the number of children affected in the US has now reached 5%, and for adults it’s 4%. In the UK, allergies are estimated to affect as many as 8% of all children.

Over the years, there’s been much speculation over the causes of the increasing number of individuals affected by allergies and asthma. Now, a new study has shown that a possible cause of this rise could be the ever growing use of acid-suppressive medications and antibiotics given to children in infancy. The study looked at the data of over 700,000 children in the US, and took into account whether children were prescribed acid-suppressive medications — histamine-2 receptor antagonists – orH2 blockers.

It also looked at whether they were prescribed antibiotics like penicillin in the first six months of life. This was then compared with data on whether the children had been diagnosed with an allergic disease like asthma or food allergies. The researchers found that these medications did pose an increased risk of “food allergy, anaphylaxis, asthma, atopic dermatitis, allergic rhinitis, allergic conjunctivitis, urticaria — which is hives — contact dermatitis, medication allergy and a class of other allergies.”

In addition, it found that higher doses of these medications posed a greater risk to children. For example, infants who were prescribed proton pump inhibitors for more than 60 days had a 52% higher risk of being diagnosed with a food allergy in childhood than those who were prescribed them for less than 60 days.

Dr. Edward Mitre, an associate professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, Maryland and lead author of the study said: “These medications are given frequently. In our study, we found that about 8% of all children received a prescription for acid-suppressive therapy. These medications are usually given to infants who regurgitate food and appear fussy.”

“For most infants, though, regurgitation of food is not a disease. Rather, it’s a developmentally normal process. There are some infants with severe gastroesophageal reflux, who have disease from this and who warrant medical therapy, but it is probable that the vast majority do not,” he said. “So we feel this study is important because it suggests that antibiotics and acid-suppressive medications should be used only in situations of clear clinical benefit, since we see this association with increased risk of allergies.”

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