Prenatal antibiotic exposure, asthma and the atopic march: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Antibiotic use during pregnancy may increase the risk for asthma in children. We performed a meta-analysis assessing prenatal antibiotic exposure and the risk for childhood wheeze or asthma, as well as for diseases associated with the atopic march.

A systematic literature search protocol (PROSPERO-ID: CRD42020191940) was registered and searches were completed using Medline, Proquest, Embase, and the Cochrane central register of controlled trials. Screening for inclusion criteria: published in English, German, French, Dutch or Arabic, intervention (use of any antibiotic at any time point during pregnancy), and disease (reporting atopic disease incidence in children with a primary outcome of asthma or wheeze), and exclusion criteria: reviews, preclinical data, and descriptive studies, yielded 27 studies. Study quality was assessed using the Newcastle–Ottawa Assessment Scale. Quality of the evidence was assessed using the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development, and Evaluation (GRADE) approach.

Our meta-analysis demonstrates that antibiotic use during pregnancy is associated with an increased relative risk (RR) of developing wheeze RR 1.51 (95% CI: 1.17-1.94) or asthma RR 1.28 (95% CI 1.22-1.34) during childhood. Assessment of the atopic march in association with asthma or wheeze revealed that antibiotic use during pregnancy also increases risk for eczema/dermatitis RR 1.28 (95% CI: 1.06 –1.53) and allergic rhinitis RR 1.13 (95% CI: 1.02 –1.25). One study found an increase in food allergy RR 1.81 (95% CI: 1.11 –2.95).

Maternal antibiotic use during pregnancy is associated with an increased risk for wheeze or asthma development in children, as well as for diseases involved in the atopic march. There was high heterogeneity in the data, and the certainty of the evidence was determined to be low quality, highlighting the need for more high-quality studies on this topic. These results have importance for antibiotics stewardship throughout the prenatal period. This work was supported by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation