Coughs and sneezes

'GPs see a lot of coughs at this time of year': HSE warns people off antibiotics to treat coughs

The HSE is reminding people that most coughs should not be treated with antibiotics.

THE HSE IS reminding people not to seek out antibiotics to deal with common coughs. 

With people often susceptible to catching colds and the flu at this time of year, doctors are warning people that most coughs are viral – meaning antibiotics are not effective against them. 

Dr Nuala O’Connor, a Cork GP who works on the issue of antimicrobial resistance, said that GPs see a lot of coughs at this time of the year. 

“Coughing is part of your body’s way of protecting your lungs.  It is better to cough up phlegm than to have it stay lower in your lungs.  Coughing spreads the germs that caused your cough in the first place so it is important not to spread the illness to others,” she said. 

There have been major concerns in recent years that over-use of antibiotics has contributed to antimicrobial resistance, which makes treating infection a lot more difficult. 

The HSE currently works with GPs to promote a safe and sensible approach to antibiotic use. 

“If your cough is caused by a cold and you need advice, talk to your pharmacist first.  Over-the-counter cough remedies may ease your cough and help you to bring up phlegm so that coughing is easier. Paracetamol or ibuprofen will relieve pain,” O’Connor said. 

“Many people also find that hot honey and lemon drinks are helpful. Antibiotics do not actually ease a cough – they kill bacteria,” she added. 

The HSE is advising people to consider the extent of their symptoms before going to a doctor. 

Coughs can last for several days and over-the-counter treatments can be used to treat them. 

If the cough does last for more than three weeks, then it is time to go and see a doctor. 

“If your child has a cough but is in reasonably good form and is drinking well, there is often no need to do anything. Your child’s immune system will fight the bug that is causing the cough,” O’Connor says. 

Speaking of antibiotic resistance, our colleagues at Noteworthy want to look at why Irish hospitals can’t get the most dangerous superbug under control and why control measures are not always being implemented. You can find out here

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