If I have a cough, will antibiotics stop me from getting more serious illnesses e.g. pneumonia?

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Antibiotics for acute bronchitis (Cochrane Review)

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If I have a cough, will antibiotics stop me from getting more serious illnesses e.g. pneumonia?

Usually the underlying infection causing our cough will not be pneumonia. A review of research into whether antibiotics are effective in childhood coughs found that taking antibiotics made no difference to the outcome of the illness or to whether complications such as pneumonia or acute otitis media developed. See the Bandolier article for more details In addition, a review of research into the effectiveness of antibiotics for coughs in adults found that in most patients there was no benefit to antibiotic treatment, the main exceptions being groups such as the elderly where some benefit may be seen. The review reports that for every 100 patients seen by a GP, 9 would report benefits after 7-11 days but 7 would be likely to have side effects from the antibiotic treatment. Decision to treat has to be weighed up against the potential side effects, threat to increasing bacterial resistance and the potential for reinforcing the belief in patients that antibiotics cure coughs. Further research has suggested that reduced antibiotic prescribing may be linked to increased hospital admissions with complications (see the article by Little et al for more details). However, the authors suggest that it may not be appropriate to advocate more frequent prescribing, instead more efforts should be made to identify those individual patients at risk.. Coughing is actually part of your body’s response to infection in the airways and is helping to get rid of the germs causing the infection. The majority of coughs caused by infections will clear up by themselves given time, although if complications such as pneumonia develop antibiotics may be needed. Particularly vulnerable groups, such as the elderly or those with chronic lung disease should be aware that they may be more at risk of developing complications and should discuss this with their doctor if at all concerned.

Related Resources
Over-the-counter medications for acute cough in children and adults in ambulatory settings (Cochrane Review)
Quantitative systematic review of randomised controlled trials comparing antibiotic with placebo for acute cough in adults
Systematic review of the treatment of upper respiratory tract infection
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Antibiotics for childhood coughs
Prodigy Guidance - Chest Infections
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Antibiotic prescribing and admissions with major suppurative complications of respiratory tract infections: a data linkage study
Prophylactic antibiotic therapy for chronic bronchitis (Cochrane Review)
Antibiotics for acute bronchitis (Cochrane Review)

Date of Posting: 21/06/2004
Date of next Review: 21/06/2005

Related Questions:
If I have a cough do I need to take antibiotics?
What if I do get pneumonia?
Do older/younger people or people with other infections need antibiotics for a cough?
If antibiotics aren't going to help my cough what will?
If I have bronchitis do I need antibiotics?

MeSH keywords:
Cough; Antibiotics; Pneumonia

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