Doctors still can’t agree on whether antibiotics are an effective way of treating acute bronchitis. Worse, they can’t even agree on what acute bronchitis is.
A recent editorial assessed four systematic reviews comparing antibiotics with placebo in the treatment of bronchitis. The conclusions of the scrutinised reviews ranged from “the current literature does not support antibiotic treatment for acute bronchitis” to “antibiotics may be modestly effective for a minority of patients with acute bronchitis”.
Who that minority may be is the subject of continuing debate. The authors suggest that there may be such a thing as acute bacterial bronchitis related to pneumonia though the tests needed to confirm its presence would require referral to a specialist. So, for the majority of patients, even those with acute bronchitis, antibiotics are still unlikely to offer a cure (BMJ, 2001; 322: 939-40).