Expert Warns Against Use of Antibiotics in Acute Cough Treatment

A lung expert at Makerere University has discouraged the use of common antibiotics to treat acute cough warning that the misuse of these drugs is almost becoming an epidemic as many families have resorted to self-medication.

A cough is considered acute when it lasts fewer than three weeks and chronic when it lasts more than eight weeks. According to Dr. Bruce Kirenga, the Executive Director of Makerere Lung Institute, the antibiotics used in the treatment of bacterial infections such as the widely used Azithromycin and erythromycin are not supposed to be used.

Worse, the doctor reveals that in many anti-cough syrups, the active molecules for treatment are limited.

Kirenga’s revelation comes at a time when concerns are being raised by sections of the public about widespread cough infections that tend to be resistant to the commonly available medications. 

He says that people who have had a cough for more than eight weeks no matter how serious it is should consider doing a thorough assessment to rule out Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a chronic inflammatory lung disease that causes obstructed airflow from the lungs, asthma, or TB.

Kirenga says an examination will help determine whether the chronic cough is due to those conditions or if it’s a type of unexplained chronic cough that is most prevalent among women and individuals of advanced age. 

In a TB survey done in Uganda in 2014, researchers found over 2000 cases of cough where 600 were categorized as unexplained chronic cough. Kirenga says that the many unexplained chronic coughs have turned out to be atypical asthma syndrome and urges health workers to be keen on assessing the possibility of patients carrying asthma without presenting with typical symptoms such as wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness. 

He says he recently got a case where the patient had suffered from on-and-off coughs for the last thirty years and was confirmed positive for the syndrome.

He notes however that any cough irrespective of how it presents is either a result of irritation caused by pollutants in the environment or infection, a mass growing causing pressure, or acid from the stomach passing through or reaching the esophagus.

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