Scientists have warned for decades that the overuse of antibiotics leads to the development of drug-resistant bacteria, making it harder to fight infectious disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that drug resistant bacteria cause 23,000 deaths and two million illnesses each year.
But when we think of antibiotic overuse, we don’t generally think of allergies. Research is beginning to suggest that maybe we should.
Allergies are getting more and more common
In the last two to three decades, immunologists and allergists have noted a dramatic increase in the prevalence of allergies. The American Academy of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology reports that some 40%-50% of schoolchildren worldwide are sensitized to one or more allergens. The most common of these are skin allergies such as eczema (10%-17%), respiratory allergies such as asthma and rhinitis (~10%), and food allergies such as those to peanuts (~8%).
This isn’t just happening in the US. Other industrialized countries have seen increases as well.
Antibiotics can disrupt the gut micro biome
Why would antibiotics, which we use to fight harmful bacteria, wind up making someone more susceptible to an allergy? While antibiotics fight infections, they also reduce the normal bacteria in our gastrointestinal system, the so-called gut micro biome.
Because of the interplay between gut bacteria and the normal equilibrium of cells of the immune system, the gut micro biome plays an important role in the maturation of the immune response. When this interaction between bacteria and immune cells does not happen, the immune system responds inappropriately to innocuous substances such as food or components of dust. This can result in the development of potentially fatal allergies.
Exposure to the microbes at an early age is important for full maturation of our immune systems. Reducing those microbes may make us feel cleaner, but our immune systems may suffer.
Do more microbes means fewer allergies?
We will dive into Part II next week and investigate what scientists have discovered about our microbes and its correlation to allergies…
This article was originally published on The Conversation.