Relation of early antibiotic use to childhood asthma: confounding by indication?


Anne L. Wright, Arizona Respiratory Center, Arizona Health SciencesCenter, University of Arizona, 1501 N. Campbell Avenue, PO Box 245030, Tucson AZ 85724, AZ, USA.


Background Findings from studies of the relation between early antibiotic use and subsequent asthma have been inconsistent, which may be attributable to methodologic issues.

Objective Our objective was to assess the impact of confounding by indication on the relation of early antibiotic use to childhood asthma through age 5 in a non-selected birth cohort (n=424).

Methods Oral antibiotic use was assessed by frequent nurse interviews in the first 9 months of life. Physician-diagnosed active asthma and eczema were assessed by questionnaire at 1, 2, 3, and 5 years, and were considered as ever asthma or ever eczema if positive at any age. Allergen-specific IgE was assessed in plasma at 1, 2, 3, and 5 years. Confounding by indication was investigated by considering the relation of asthma to antibiotic use while controlling for the number of illness visits to a physician in early life.

Results There was no statistically significant relation of early antibiotic use with physician-diagnosed eczema or allergen-specific IgE. A dose–response relation was evident for antibiotic use with ever asthma (odds ratio [OR]=1.5, P=0.047). Ever asthma also increased significantly with the number of illness visits to a physician (P<0.001). After adjustment for number of illness visits, antibiotic use showed no relation with asthma.

Conclusions The relation of asthma to antibiotics in this cohort appears to be an artefact of the strong relation of number of physician visits for illness with both antibiotic use and risk for asthma.

Cite this as: Y. Su, J. Rothers, D. A. Stern, M. Halonen and A. L. Wright, Clinical & Experimental Allergy, 2010 (40) 1222–1229.