Baby Wipes, Antacids and Antibiotics: Do They Cause Food Allergies?
Apr 11, 2018
You may be wondering what these three things have in common. Recent media headlines have claimed that each of these can cause infants to develop food allergies. Naturally, this has raised concern among parents and medical providers. Did we cause children to develop food allergies by exposing them to these common things? Can we now prevent food allergies from developing? As usual, there’s more to the story.
Unfortunately, we do not have many clear answers why food allergies have increased in the past two decades. Many theories have circulated but these have mostly remained unfounded. This likely stems from a complicated interaction of multiple factors early in life, which are unlikely the same for every child. There is simply no single reason why children develop food allergies.
Too many mothers carry guilt from being told they ‘caused’ their child’s food allergies. This is simply not true.
So what about baby wipes, antacids, and antibiotics? Two recently published studies have caused this stir. Unfortunately, the actual study findings have been distorted. Clickbait headlines and sound bites have been shared and spread without much thought behind the data.
Baby wipes: First and foremost, this study did not involve baby wipes…or humans!!! This study was performed in laboratory mice bred to have mutations causing skin barrier dysfunction, e.g. eczema. The mice underwent various exposures, including peanut and egg, as well as chemicals found in soaps and detergents. Mice exposed to both foods and soap through their skin had higher rates of food allergy reactions. The authors speculate, but did not actually study, that soaps found in baby wipes may cause infants to develop food allergies. Do you see the problem here? You can never take data from mice and apply it directly to humans. Many ‘breakthroughs’ in mice never pan out in humans.
Antacids and antibiotics: This study reviewed a database of almost 800,000 children. The authors looked at past medical records to see if there was an association of medication use in infants and later diagnosis of allergic disease, including food allergies. They report a higher risk of allergies among infants who were prescribed these medications. The problem: studies that look at an association of two events cannot be used to identify any causality. This study also used prescriptions (not actual use of medication), physician diagnosis codes (not actual proof of allergies), and could not control for multiple other confounding factors that may have led to this connection. Reverse causality may have also contributed if infants with allergic conditions were already displaying symptoms and were then more likely to be prescribed medications.
So what does this all mean? While baby wipes, antacids, and antibiotics may one day be shown to contribute to the development of food allergies, these studies do not prove that. We always need to read past the headlines when trying to understand complicated medical research. If you read something concerning, discuss with your personal physician before making any changes to your lifestyle or treatment.
David Stukus, MD, is an associate professor of pediatrics in the Section of Allergy and Immunology at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Dr. Dave, as his patients call him, is passionate about increasing awareness for allergies and asthma.
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