Doctors cannot seem to stop prescribing the wrong medications for illnesses -- acute bronchitis, for that matter -- a recent study has shown.
Despite the numerous studies that have proven antibiotics cannot cure acute bronchitis, doctors in the last decade still continued to give such prescriptions to their patients. In fact, a report recently published in JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association stated that 70 percent of patients who seek medical treatment for their acute bronchitis still received antibiotics as a cure.
Most of the time, a virus is the culprit of the incessant wheezing in patients that lasts for weeks. Until it is confirmed through a careful examination of the sputum or phlegm, doctors could not and should not prescribe antibiotics because these are meant to treat bacterial infections and not viruses, experts say.
"The awful truth of acute bronchitis is that the cough, on average, lasts for three weeks and it doesn't matter if you take an antibiotic or not," said Jeffrey Linder of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, who is also one of the authors of the report.
"You're taking a medicine that has no chance of helping you and has a very real chance of harming you," he added.
Taking antibiotics when a person is not supposed to take one may increase the chances of the patient acquiring colon infections caused by bacteria known as Clostridium difficile. The patient may suffer from mild diarrhea to life-threatening inflammation of the colon.
The worst thing that has happened in the overuse of antibiotics is that it has prompted the rise of superbugs, or bacteria that are resistant to the drugs intended to kill them. In 2001, the Centers for Disease Control together with various medical societies led the call to arms against prescription of antibiotics for acute bronchitis.
In the recent study, Linder and his colleague Michael Barnett tried to find out how prevalent antibiotic prescriptions were to patients with acute bronchitis in the years 1996 up to 2010 with the data from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey and the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey.
After going through 3,153 prescriptions from personal doctors, emergency rooms and outpatient clinics, the researchers learned that the rate of prescribing increased during those years, with doctors insisting on giving antibiotics almost 71 percent of the time.
As per Linder and Barnett, it was prescriptions from emergency rooms that gave the wrong medication for acute bronchitis to the patients who sought treatment.