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Should I Take Antibiotics for a Cough?

Normal coughs are usually caused by viruses, which do not respond to antibiotics.
Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial, not viral, infections.
Individuals with a bad cough may require antibiotics.
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  • Written By: Laura Evans
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 01 September 2014
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"Normal" coughs are typically caused by viruses. Antibiotics do not have any effect on viral infections. People should not take antibiotics for a cough as the antibiotics will not cure the cough. In addition, taking antibiotics unnecessarily contributes to developing strains of bacteria that are antibiotic-resistant.

Bacteria and viruses are different types of organisms. The majority of bacteria, which are single-cell organisms, do not affect human beings at all. In fact, some bacteria help human beings, such as the bacteria in the body that helps digest food. Bacteria exist and reproduce in a variety of different climates and conditions around the world. Viruses are unable to multiply unless the viruses have invaded a living plant or animal where the viruses take over cell functions and direct the cells to produce more viruses.

Colds, flu, and bronchitis, all of which can include coughing as a symptom, are typically viral infections. Antibiotics attack bacteria and fungus. In addition, antibiotics work on certain types of parasites, such as giardia lamblia, which causes diarrhea. Taking antibiotics for a cough will not only not help cure the cough, taking antibiotics for a cough can lead to other problems.

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The first problem is immediate. A person who wants to take antibiotics for a cough must go to a physician's office to get a prescription. This means that the person will have to take the time to go to the doctor as well as pay for the visit. Even those with insurance will have to make a co-pay, depending on their insurance policies. In addition, if a person is able to convince a physician to prescribe antibiotics for a cough, the person will also have to pay or make a co-payment for the medication. This is a waste of both time and money.

The second problem with taking antibiotics for a cough is more long term. Over time, some types of bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics. This means that certain "bugs" cannot be killed by a given type of antibiotic. Doctors must find another type of antibiotic, if available, to treat the illness. Taking antibiotics unnecessarily contributes to this problem.

When an individual takes antibiotics, the antibiotics kill bacteria. Like other organisms, bacteria can mutate, or change, over time. Some bacteria have mutated to become resistant to antibiotics. Antibiotics will not kill resistant bacteria. Ultimately, as as antibiotics kill non-resistant bacteria, the resistant bacteria will become the majority, leading to illnesses that cannot be treated.

This is a rather simple explanation for a problem has become a worldwide concern in the health community. People should only take antibiotics for bacterial infections. In addition, people should take the medications as prescribed, meaning take all of the doses, even when they are feeling better before all the medicine has been taken. Taking antibiotics for a cough can have an negative impact on whether antibiotics will work on infections in the future.

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Discuss this Article

SarahGen
Post 3

Technically, antibiotics won't do anything for a cough anyway. Only a cough suppressant and perhaps an expectorant can help with coughing.

I personally prefer natural cough remedies like anise tea or warm milk with ginger and honey. They work great.

SteamLouis
Post 2

@discographer-- I think that's very poor logic. As the article already said, coughing is not always due to bacterial infections. In fact, sometimes coughing is not due to an infection at all, such as when acid reflux, allergies or post nasal drip is causing it. So taking antibiotics for coughing without knowing the cause is not only illogical but also dangerous. The more bacteria are exposed to an antibiotic, the more resistant they become. So when you really are coughing because of an infection and you need antibiotics, the antibiotic may not work because the bacteria became resistant.

I'm not saying that antibiotics are never required when someone is coughing. If there is a bacterial infection, then they may be used. But to know that, you have to see a doctor and get a swab test done. Antibiotics should not be used without a proper diagnosis and doctor prescription. By randomly taking antibiotics, you are harming your own health and others' in the long run.

discographer
Post 1

Ever since I was a child, I take antibiotics whenever I develop a severe cough. If I don't, the cough worsens and takes forever to go away. I have tried to overcome coughs without antibiotics but every time, the cough became so severe that I could not sleep at night and my chest would hurt from coughing so much.

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