THE QUESTION When a nagging cough indicates a lower respiratory tract infection, treatment often includes antibiotics such as amoxicillin. Does this actually help?
THIS STUDY involved 2,061 adults (average age, 49) with lower respiratory tract infections, other than pneumonia, who had coughing as a primary symptom. They were randomly assigned to take amoxicillin (1 gram) or a placebo three times a day for a week. Virtually no difference was found between the two groups in how long symptoms lasted or how severe those symptoms were. New symptoms developed in 16 percent of those taking amoxicillin, compared with 19 percent of the others. Side effects, which included nausea, diarrhea and a rash, were more common in the amoxicillin group: 29 percent vs. 24 percent of those taking the placebo. Three people were hospitalized, two from the placebo group and one taking amoxicillin.
WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? Adults with lower respiratory tract infections, such as bronchitis, which generally have coughing as the telltale sign. Although occasional coughing is normal, persistent coughing may signal a respiratory infection.
CAVEATS Some of the data came from records kept by the participants. The findings do not apply to people with pneumonia.
FIND THIS STUDY Dec. 19 online issue of the Lancet.
The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.