Coughs bring many people to the doctor, especially at this time of year. What most patients are hoping for is a quick resolution… within the week, yet a new U.S. study has found that coughs take longer to clear than most of us expect, and the difference between how long someone expects a cough to last, and how long it actually does last, may bring patients back to the doctor asking for antibiotics that will be no help and may be trouble in terms of encouraging the growth of drug resistant organisms.
It’s important to understand that a cough is the natural way the body has to remove foreign material or mucus from the lungs and passages of the upper airway, or as a reaction to an irritated airway. Coughs are a symptom, not a disease on their own.
For the work the team, led by Mark Ebell from the University of Georgia in Athens, conducted a telephone survey of 493 adults who lived in the state of Georgia, about how long they expected a cough to last based on a hypothetical situation – that they had a 100.5-degree fever and were coughing up yellow mucus. Most people thought that this cough would clear in from 7 to 9 days.
The researchers then looked at 19 earlier studies on severe coughs that kept track of how long the cough actually lasted. In those works they saw it took a cough, on average, 17.8 days to go away. The findings were published in the Annals of Family Medicine, showing the difference between expectations and reality in terms of cough, and pointing out the risk of antibiotic overuse.
The concern from researchers was that the unrealistic expectations of patients could bring them back to the doctor asking for antibiotics that won’t do anything to speed the recovery, cost money, and open them up to allergic reactions or unpleasant side effects.
Doctors need to explain to their patients that a cough can take a while to clear, and to expect a good three-week recovery. Such expectations also fuel the fires of inappropriate antibiotic use, despite evidence that getting these medications at any point in the illness isn’t going to make it clear any faster. Patients need to understand that sometimes, the best medicine is no medicine, and instead to let nature take its course and give the body time to heal.
If you think antibiotic overuse doesn’t happen, figures from 2006 found that about 50% of patients who went to the doctor with an acute cough were in fact given an antibiotic. But these drugs work against bacteria, and most coughs are caused by viruses.
When a cough merits a return to the doctor…
- If you bring up blood when you cough
- If you are short of breath
- If your cough lasts more than 1 month
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How Long To Clear A Cold Continued…
Barring these things, your best bet if you’re hacking and coughing is to give your body time to recover. Remember that the color of what you bring up, though it seems like it should be a signal of illness, really means little to the doctor. Most coughs resolve on their own; no matter what color the phlegm.
Antibiotics are wonderful medications, and surely save lives, but they must be used when clearly needed. Misuse has already increased the number of drug resistant organisms out there. The human body is an amazing mechanism, and once your immune system gets going, an invading the virus is defeated and the hacking and coughing become a thing of the past.
To your good health,