Infants who ate fish suffered from less wheezing later in life than those who were treated with broad-spectrum antibiotics in the first week of life, a new study finds.

The study by researchers at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden surveyed around 4,000 randomly selected families with questions about children at the ages of six months, twelve months and four and a half years of age.

“The aim of our study was to identify both important risk factors and protective factors for the disease,” said Dr. Emma Goksor from the Queen Silvia Children’s Hospital.

Children who started eating fish before nine months of age were less likely to suffer from wheezes during pre-school age, while children treated with broad-spectrum antibiotics in the first week of life were at higher risk to suffer from wheezes by pre-school age, being published in the Dec. issue of the journal Acta Paediatrica.

"Recurrent wheeze is a very common clinical problem in preschool children and there is a need for better medical treatment and improved understanding of the underlying mechanisms" Goksor said.

Researchers analyzed children who had three or more episodes of wheezing in the last year, including those who did or did not take asthma medication.

Prevalence of Wheezing:

One in five children in the study had at least one episode of wheezing and one in 20 had recurrent wheeze (three or more episodes) over the last year. Children with recurrent wheeze in the study had episodic viral wheeze 57 percent and 43 percent had multiple-trigger wheezes.

Fish Consumption Before 9 Months of Age:

Eating fish before the age of nine moths almost halved the likelihood of suffering recurrent wheezes at 4.5 years. The fish most commonly eaten were white fish, salmon and flat fish.

The author had previously linked fish to reduced allergy risk and reported that fish was beneficial to reducing eczema in infancy and allergic rhinitis at pre-school age. Other research has suggested fish has a protective effect on the development of asthma.

Broad-Spectrum Antibiotics in First Week of Life

Being treated with broad-spectrum antibiotics in the first week of life was associated with double the risk of recurrent wheeze at 4.5 years. In the study just 3.6 percent of the children in the no wheeze group had received antibiotics, compared with 10.7 percent of those who had experienced three or more episodes.

The risk was even higher in children with multiple-trigger wheeze, while the risk of episodic viral wheezes did not statistically increase.

"Our demographic analysis suggests that the responses we received were largely representative of the population as a whole and we believe our findings provide useful information, said Goksor."