Time, Not Antibiotics, Best Rx for Chest Cold
Study: Antibiotics Don't Help Cough With Ugly Phlegm in People Without Lung Disease
WebMD News Archive
Chest Colds Linger Longer continued...
For example, Ebell notes, doctors generally thought the cough from a chest
cold lasted about a week. Surprisingly, Little's team finds that these coughs
last for about three weeks -- and often last a month. And it's also a surprise
to many doctors that antibiotics really don't help otherwise healthy patients
with chest colds.
"I hope this will educate doctors about the limits of antibiotics for
treating cough," Ebell tells WebMD. "It is very hard for doctors to
learn the limits of their own informal observations in practice and to lean
that sometimes the studies are right and they are wrong."
What About Children?
It's one thing to accept the news that antibiotics won't help our own chest
colds. But won't they at least help our coughing kids?
No, Little and colleagues find. The otherwise healthy children enrolled in
their study did the same as adults.
That confirms what some pediatricians already suspected, says Michael J.
Light, MD, chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics' pulmonology section
and professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of Miami in Florida.
"The majority of kids don't need antibiotics unless they have a definite
pneumonia," Light tells WebMD. "Lower respiratory infections in kids
are common and they go on for a long time. We pediatricians take notice of
coughs that go on beyond five or seven days, and those are the ones we tend to
treat with antibiotics. But this study clearly shows that probably isn't the
right approach. Waiting it out is correct."
Despite this reassurance, Light says parents should be aware of signs that
children need help right away.
"If a cough lasts for more than several days, it is not an unreasonable
thing to see the doctor," Light says. "If children have a fever that
persists, if they seem to be breathing significantly faster than usual, this
needs to be checked out."
A child that has difficulty breathing and begins to turn blue should
immediately be taken to an emergency room.
Sometimes you really do need to see a doctor for a bad cough. It could be
pneumonia. Signs of pneumonia are:
- Shortness of breath
- High fever
- Rapid breathing
- Coughing rusty-colored or bloody sputum
- Feeling very weak or tired
If you have any of these symptoms, it's a good idea to see a doctor.
"Basically, any time someone is worried we want them to come in,"
Ebell says. "There are other reasons to worry about a cough besides chest
colds. Coughs can be caused by acid reflux, allergies, sinus infections,
asthma, and other things we can treat. Any cough lasting more than two weeks
should be evaluated by a doctor unless it is definitely getting better and