Coughs Usually Last 3 Weeks, Antibiotics Should NOT Be Used

NPR has an article which points out that most people incorrectly think coughs should last about a week, and that antibiotics help get rid of them. This false thinking is probably due to confusing cold and flu with bronchitis. The facts:

  • Most coughs are caused by acute bronchitis. (There’s also chronic bronchitis, which is long-term, and usually caused by smoking.)
  • Acute bronchitis usually comes along with, or after, a bout of the flu or common cold
  • Bronchitis is not the cold or flu — it’s a separate illness
  • On average, bronchitis lasts 18 days; in contrast, colds and flus last about a week
  • All colds, flus, and 90% of bronchitis cases are caused by viruses, not bacteria
  • Therefore, antibiotics are useless against all three: antibiotics have no effect on viruses
  • According to the CDC, overuse of antibiotics increases the amount of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and therefore your chance of infection later

The moral of the story: don’t use antibiotics on a cough unless a doctor prescribed it — without you begging for it, and after a microscopic exam showed abnormal amounts of bacteria in your sputum.

What should you use? There’s no pill that will make your cold, flu or bronchitis go away more quickly, but there are plenty of over-the-counter medications that will mask the symptoms. If you or those around you can’t stand the coughing, a cough suppressant and expectorant will make the coughs less frequent, but more productive.

See also:

From NPR and CDC


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