Paracetamol or antibiotic use
early in life may increase the subsequent risk of asthma
who were given paracetamol early in life have a higher risk of
having asthma symptoms now (about 25%) compared with children
who were not given paracetamol early in life (about 15%).
Children who had used antibiotics early in life also had a higher
risk of having current asthma symptoms (about 28%) compared with
children who had not used antibiotics early in life (about 16%).
These are two of the key findings from a survey conducted by the
Centre for Public Health Research at Massey University, and the
Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) which has
just been published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community
The survey was designed to learn more about childhood infections
and asthma risk. The study surveyed parents of 1,584 children who
had been notified to public health services with serious infections
at age 0-4 years. It compared their health with 2,539 children
sampled from the general population.
For the children in the survey about 24% currently had some asthma
symptoms; about the same as in the general population, so having
an infection early in life didn’t seem to have affected their
risk of getting asthma.
Having a cat early in life did not increase the risk of getting
asthma or hay fever; in fact, it actually reduced it a little.
Professor Neil Pearce from Massey University says these findings
should be regarded as preliminary, and there are no immediate policy
“It’s not clear yet as to what is causing what. Are
parents giving their children antibiotics or paracetamol for infections,
and is it the infections themselves that increase the risk of asthma?
Are parents of asthmatic children more likely to remember what
medicines they took early in life?”
“However, if these findings are confirmed in further research
then they would indicate the need for greater caution in the use
both antibiotics and paracetamol early in life,” he says.
“We would like to stress that these findings don’t
mean that parents should stop giving their children antibiotics
when it is appropriate to do so. Furthermore, the increase in asthma
risk, if it is real, is quite small and there is no need to be
concerned if your child took antibiotics or paracetamol early in
Professor Pearce says, “The findings are consistent with
what has been found in several overseas studies. It will help us
in our continuing research to try and find out what causes asthma,
and how we can prevent it.”
16 September, 2004