Antibiotics are not successful in treating cough due to the common cold in children, according to findings presented at CHEST 2012, the annual meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians.

Researchers found that when children suffering from acute cough were treated with either anti-tussive medication or antibiotics, using only antibiotics presented a lower percentage of cough resolution.

Lead study author Francesco de Blasio, MD, FCCP, Clinic Center Private Hospital, Naples, Italy said:

“In our experience, antibiotics are often prescribed by the general practitioner to treat cough in children, many times to pacify parents. However, antibiotics show very little effectiveness at treating cough due to your average head cold.”

To study the way antibiotics are used in a clinical pediatric setting, Dr. Blasio and his colleagues from the University of Bologna and Dompe SPA in Italy examined the treatment and outcomes of 305 children who needed a medical consultation due to acute cough from the common cold.

Of the children, 89 took only antibiotics, 38 had a combination of anti-tussives and antibiotics; 16 took central (codeine and cloperastine), and 22 received peripheral (levodropropizine). Forty-four children received only central, 79 children received only peripheral anti-tussives; both of these groups did not take any antibiotics. Fifty-five children received no medication.

The findings showed no significant difference in percentage of cough resolution between children treated with anti-tussives alone than children who received a combination of anti-tussives and antibiotics. In contrast, children who received only antibiotics had a lower percentage of cough resolution than those treated with only anti-tussives.

Also seen was the use of the peripheral anti-tussive levodropropizine showing a meaningful beneficial effect in terms of cough resolution, compared with primary acting anti-tussive drugs.

The authors believe that few drugs act as cough suppressants, including antibiotics. In fact, they are no more effective than no medication at all. Peripheral anti-tussives, like levodropropizine, seem to be the best way to relieve the symptoms of cough.

The investigators’ results confirmed the American College of Chest Physicians evidence-based recommendations for the diagnosis and treatment of cough. These guidelines suggest the use of peripheral anti-tussives for specific types of cough. Although antibiotics are not effective for cough treatment, they can be helpful in treating hidden infections that could lead to a cough.

Dr. Blasio stresses that antibiotics should not be overused. Antibiotic use when there is no infection present can be harmful. The common cold is caused by viruses, not bacteria, which is what antibiotics are used to treat. Repeated antibiotic use can cause adverse allergic reactions and resistance to those medications.

Previous research has told us that parents often make pressure for antibiotic prescription for their sick children.

ACCP President-Elect Darcy D. Marciniuk, MD, FCCP, said:

“As parents, it is difficult to watch our children suffering from a terrible cough, but turning to antibiotics is not always the answer. 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.”

Written by Kelly Fitzgerald