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Antibiotics: use and abuse for simple chest infections

Antibiotics: use and abuse for simple chest infections

A common winter infection, acute bronchitis is usually benign. As it is of viral origin most of the time, antibiotics are not useful.


What is acute bronchitis?

It is a temporary inflammation of the respiratory system, usually due to a viral infection. It causes:

  • a dry and painful cough that becomes productive of phlegm,
  • usually a low fever,
  • sore throat, stuffy nose, aches and pains, headaches

Should I take antibiotics?

Most of the time, acute bronchitis is of viral origin. That is why antibiotics are useless, as they are not effective against viruses. They do not lower fever or speed up healing as they do not treat the cause of the infection. They also do not prevent spread of the infection.

If your phlegm is coloured, it is not a sign of a bacterial superinfection.

An infection of the bronchi will disappear after a few days, but the cough can linger longer.

Can I take medication to feel better?

There is no treatment for acute bronchitis if it is viral, but it is possible to ease symptoms with a cough suppressant in case of dry cough and bronchial mucolytics for productive coughs, anti-pyretics for fever, analgesics for aches and nose drops and throat lozenges to ease sore throats.

When are antibiotics indicated?

Antibiotics are sometimes necessary:

  • if you have a chronic respiratory illness, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • if you have an associated illness (cardiac failure, renal failure, cancer, cirrhosis, etc.)
  • for elderly and fragile people.
Publication date:   5/12/10
 
 

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