Harvard Men's Health Watch

Antibiotics still prescribed too often for bronchitis

A report in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that doctors still frequently prescribe antibiotics to treat bronchitis, despite lack of evidence that they help to clear up this common lower respiratory tract infection.

Bronchitis inflames the breathing tubes (bronchi) deep in the chest, causing a hacking cough—sometimes with sputum, sometimes dry. The infection can be caused by bacteria but often the culprit is a virus, which won't respond to antibiotics. The best studies to date have found little evidence that antibiotics are effective for bronchitis in otherwise healthy people.

The JAMA study found that U.S. doctors prescribed antibiotics for bronchitis 71% of the time from 1996 to 2010. In fact, the practice increased during this period, despite urging by public health experts to stop it.

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