ATLANTA (CBS Atlanta) – Many feel as though a cough lingers well after other symptoms of illness have gone away – and those people may have a point. A new study has found that the average cough lasts around 18 days, a fact which leads to widespread misconceptions regarding proper treatment of a cough.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Georgia and funded by the Institute for Evidence-Based Health Professions Education at UGA, looked at 19 observational studies that examined anywhere between 23 and 1,230 patients, all of which took place in either the United States, Europe, Russia or Kenya.

That data was used to determine that the average cough reportedly lasts an estimated 17.8 days.

Researchers then asked 500 Georgia residents questions about how long they thought a cough lasted. The average response was seven to nine days, CBS News reported. The difference between a patient’s expectations and the scientific reality lead to frequent misuse of medications, according to researchers involved in the study.

“If a patient expects that an episode of [acute cough illness] should last about 6 or 7 days, it makes sense that they might seek care for that episode and request an antibiotic after 5 or 6 days,” the online version of the study noted. “Furthermore, if they begin taking an antibiotic 7 days after the onset of symptoms, they may begin to feel better 3 or 4 days later, with the episode fully resolving 10 days later.”

Researchers added, “Although this outcome may reinforce the mistaken idea that the antibiotic worked, it is merely a reflection of the natural history of [acute cough illness].”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people with acute cough illness account for two to three percent of doctor visits, and more than half of them are given a prescription for antibiotics to handle the problem.

Experts feel that this course of treatment is far too often utilized.

“There is a mismatch in what people believe and reality,” Dr. Mark Ebell, associate professor of epidemiology in the UGA College of Public Health, said in a press release obtained by CBS News. “If someone gets acute bronchitis and isn’t better after four to five days, they may think they need to see a doctor and get an antibiotic. And when the first one doesn’t work, they come back for or five days later for another.”

Ebell is fearful that many people are treating their coughs with antibiotics, which leads to antibiotic resistance.

“We know from clinical trials there is very little, if any, benefit to antibiotic treatments for acute cough because most of these illnesses are caused by a virus,” he added.

He additionally noted that these unnecessary doctor visits are raising the costs of health care.

“We are spending a lot of money on things that don’t make us healthier, and it is important to figure out what does work and what doesn’t work,” he added.

The study was published in a recent edition of the Annals of Family Medicine.


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