Question: Do I need antibiotics for coughing?

Cough is one of the most common complaints in a doctor’s office. Sore throat is probably the most common.

Doctors need to know why you have a cough to begin with. You could have asthma or pneumonia, the common cold or even some nasal drainage that is going down your throat.

Coughing is a symptom of bronchitis, which is self-limiting and can last up to three weeks. Color of sputum doesn’t help doctors determine if it is truly viral or bacterial.

If you don’t have fever or a fast heart rate and a fast breathing rate, then you probably have just bronchitis and not a pneumonia. Sometimes a cough is the only symptom of older adults with pneumonia.

Bronchitis most of the time is caused by a virus and rarely needs to be tested for, unless you are high-risk for pneumonia, such as older than 65, have a history of smoking, an asthmatic, HIV positive, etc.

Doctors can treat bronchitis in two ways — either with antibiotics or with symptom management. The standard of care is symptomatic treatment in the younger patient unless pertussis is suspected. Pertussis is a “whooping cough” and should be covered with the Tdap vaccine booster every 10 years.

Doctors can treat your symptoms with either over-the-counter or prescription-strength nasal decongestants, expectorants, corticosteroids, cough suppressants and bronchodilators.

The AAP, Association of American Pediatrics, recommends against cough suppressants in children younger than 6.

Some complementary medications include echinacea, honey and pelargonium. Pelargonium, i.e., Kalwerbossie, a South African geranium, or folk-remedy rabassam have modest benefit for bronchitis.

Dr. Justus Turner Peters, a family physician at Glen Rose Medical Center’s Pecan Plantation clinic, received his medical school training at Creighton University School of Medicine in Nebraska and completed his family medicine residency at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth. Board Certified in Family Medicine, Dr. Peters’ practice encompasses the care of infants and children as well as adults of all ages. He also conducts ongoing research in the areas of childhood obesity and lower extremity injuries.