This past winter I noticed a lot of people were sick with a cold, flu, or cough (or a combination). Unfortunately, what ends up happening is that a lot of people take antibiotics unnecessarily for such illnesses. I’d like to share an interesting study that will hopefully help educate us on this important topic.

The Annals of Family Medicine journal recently published a study that determined the actual length of time the body takes to rid itself of a chest cold. Most patients consider seven to nine days as the length of time a cough should last. But the reality is quite different. It turns out the average cough lasts more like 18 days. The lead researcher, Mark Ebell, MD stated, “If someone gets acute bronchitis and isn’t better after four or five days, they may think they need to see a doctor and get an antibiotic. And when the first one doesn’t work, they come back four or five days later for another.”

Chest cold is one of the most common conditions for which antibiotics are overprescribed. Ebell agrees, “We know from clinical trials there is very little, if any, benefit to antibiotic treatments for acute cough because most of these illnesses are caused by a virus. Among patients who receive antibiotics, about half of those will be very broad spectrum antibiotics that have the potential to increase antibiotic resistance. These are antibiotics that would be nice to still have around when we actually need them, like for someone who may have pneumonia.”

Perhaps this study can shed some light on your own sicknesses. If you tend to be someone who takes antibiotics for cold and flu-like illnesses, including bronchitis, remember that antibiotics are often unnecessary. Talk with your doctor about the best way to fend off the illness without contributing to antibiotic resistance.