Antibiotics Not Effective For Most Coughs
December 20, 2012

Experts Warn Against Using Antibiotics To Treat Coughs

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Not only is the antibiotic amoxicillin ineffective in treating coughs not linked to pneumonia, but it could actually be harmful if taken in some instances, a team of European researchers warns in a new study.

"Using the antibiotic amoxicillin to treat respiratory infections in patients not suspected of having pneumonia is not likely to help and could be harmful," University of Southampton professor Paul Little told BBC News on Tuesday.

"Overuse of antibiotics, dominated by primary care prescribing, particularly when they are ineffective, can lead to the development of resistance and have side effects like diarrhea, rash and vomiting," he added. "Our results show that people get better on their own. But given that a small number of patients will benefit from antibiotics the challenge remains to identify these individuals."

Little was the leader of a study, published Wednesday in the journal The Lancet, during which more than 2,000 patients who had been diagnosed with bronchitis were randomly given either amoxicillin or placebos for treatment, Deborah Kotz of the Boston Globe explained on Wednesday.

Each study participant had been diagnosed with bronchitis after reporting symptoms of severe coughing, chest congestion, or other cold-related symptoms lasting more than a week, Kotz said. Following the study, Little and his colleagues discovered that not only did the antibiotics prove no better than placebos at relieving or eliminating those symptoms, but those who took amoxicillin were also more likely to develop the aforementioned side effects (29-percent versus just 24-percent for the placebo group).

"This is convincing data that should encourage physicians in primary care to refrain from antibiotic treatment in low-risk patients in whom pneumonia is not suspected," Dr Philipp Schuetz of the Kantonsspital Aarau (KSA) in Switzerland told the Daily Mail.

"Whether this one size- fits-all approach can be further improved remains to be seen," he added. "Guidance from measurements of specific blood biomarkers of bacterial infection might help to identify the few individuals who will benefit from antibiotics despite the apparent absence of pneumonia and avoid the toxic effects and costs of those drugs and the development of resistance in other patients."

According to the BBC, experts advise that despite the study's findings, that antibiotics should be used if pneumonia is suspected, because of the potential severity of the condition. On the other hand, British Lung Foundation member Dr. Nick Hopkinson noted that the study gives doctors more evidence when dealing with persistent patients who insist that they be prescribed antibiotics when they are not needed.

"Some patients with mild chest infections will ask for a prescription -- this study can help GPs [general practitioners] suggest it may not be the best thing for them," Hopkinson told the British news agency. "Most mild chest infections will settle by themselves with no need for antibiotics -- as they are mainly caused by viruses. Those with mild infections are told to come back if symptoms don't get better."