Cough is the most common symptom which presents to doctors. Current recommendations suggest treating prolonged wet cough with antibiotics. We examined whether antibiotics are useful in treating children who have an ongoing persistent wet cough.
We included randomised controlled trials that compared antibiotics with a placebo (pretend treatment) or control group. The children included in the trials had wet cough lasting more than 10 days.
The evidence is current to September 2017.
We found three studies that varied in a number of ways including different antibiotics (two studies used amoxicillin/clavulanate acid and one used erythromycin) and length of treatment was seven or 14 days.
The mean ages of the children ranged from 21 months to six years.
This review, involving 190 children with persistent wet cough, found that antibiotics were beneficial in curing the cough. The cure rate was one child cured for every three children treated. Antibiotics also prevented the illness from getting worse, thus avoiding a further course of antibiotics, for one in every four children treated. We found no clear evidence about whether antibiotics were associated with more side effects. We could not assess long-term results.
Reliability of the evidence
The reliability of the evidence was moderate when using antibiotics to cure cough and for illness progression, while it was only low for side effects of medicines.
Take home message
Antibiotics are effective in treating children with chronic (greater than four weeks) wet cough and could be considered when they present to doctors.