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Antibiotics Don't Ease Coughs in Kids With Common Cold: Study

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 24 (HealthDay News) -- Children with a cough associated with the common cold should not be given antibiotics, according to a new study.

Although they are not effective in treating this type of cough, researchers in Italy said many children are prescribed antibiotics anyway.

Antibiotics are also overprescribed to children in the United States, other experts have said.

The findings were presented Monday at the American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP) annual meeting in Atlanta.

"In our experience, antibiotics are often prescribed by the general practitioner to treat cough in children, many times to pacify parents," study lead author Dr. Francesco de Blasio, of the Clinic Center Private Hospital in Naples, Italy, said in an ACCP news release. "However, antibiotics show very little effectiveness at treating cough due to your average head cold."

It's not hard to understand why this can occur, a U.S. expert noted.

"As parents, it is difficult to watch our children suffering from a terrible cough, but turning to antibiotics is not always the answer," added Dr. Darcy Marciniuk, ACCP president-elect, in the release. "Depending on the underlying cause of the cough, a health care professional can recommend the best treatment options for a child, which, in some cases, may be no treatment."

The study involved 305 children who were treated in their pediatrician's office for a bad cough due to the common cold. Of these kids, 89 were given antibiotics, and 38 received both antibiotics and either an anti-cough medication that affects the central nervous system (codeine, cloperastine) or a "peripheral" medication called levodropropizine.

Meanwhile, 44 children received only an anti-cough drug. The remaining 55 children were not given any treatment.

Although there was no difference in outcomes among the kids taking anti-cough medication alone or with antibiotics, the study revealed the children who were treated with antibiotics alone recovered from their cough more slowly.

The researchers noted that levodropropizine was significantly better in treating the children's cough than centrally acting anti-cough drugs.

"Few drugs are effective as cough suppressants, and antibiotics are no more effective in relieving cough than the use of no medication," de Blasio concluded.

The study authors said that antibiotics are helpful in treating underlying infections that may result in a cough, but they should not be overused.

"Using antibiotics as a treatment for cough without suspected infection is unnecessary and can be harmful," de Blasio said. "Repeated use of antibiotics, especially when they are ineffective, can lead to adverse allergic reactions or a resistance to the medications."

Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about cough and cold medications.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

SOURCE: American College of Chest Physicians, news release, Oct. 22, 2012

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