Antibiotics Overused for Acute Bronchitis

Antibiotic prescription rates for acute bronchitis were high despite ineffectiveness

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Antibiotics can be very effective and powerful when treating certain illnesses. However, they can be useless and even harmful when overused.

A recent study looked at the prescription rates of antibiotics for patients diagnosed with acute bronchitis.

Acute bronchitis is a respiratory illness that typically lasts about three weeks and is usually caused by viruses. Antibiotics are not effective in treating the illness.

Nonetheless, researchers found that doctors prescribed antibiotics for the vast majority of acute bronchitis cases.

The researchers suggested that doctors and patients work together to reduce the overuse of antibiotics for acute bronchitis.

"Do not take antibiotics for acute bronchitis."

Michael Barnett, MD, and Jeffrey Linder, MD, MPH, of Brigham and Women's Hospital, conducted this study.

Acute bronchitis occurs when the airways become inflamed and is usually accompanied by a cough that does not produce mucus. Acute bronchitis is most often caused by viruses.

According to Drs. Barnett and Linder, 40 years of trials have shown that antibiotics are not effective for treating bronchitis. Additionally, overuse of antibiotics contributes to resistance, in which germs do not respond to antibiotic medications.

Over the past 15 years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has sought to decrease antibiotic prescriptions for acute bronchitis.

Drs. Barnett and Linder evaluated the changes in antibiotic prescriptions for this illness from 1996 to 2010.

Using two annual surveys that collect information about doctors, emergency rooms and patient information, these researchers examined 3,153 cases of acute bronchitis.

They found that doctors prescribed antibiotics in 71 percent of those visits.

Between 1996 and 2010, the prescription rate actually increased.

The authors concluded that despite evidence and guidelines advising against antibiotics, doctors frequently prescribe these medications as acute bronchitis treatment.

The authors suggested that doctors and patients should collaborate to decrease overuse of antibiotics.

The researchers acknowledged that their analysis had certain limitations. For example, the sample size was small compared to all bronchitis cases in the nation.

This research was published in JAMA on May 20. It was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The authors disclosed no relevant conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
May 20, 2014
Last Updated:
May 20, 2014