Drug Information

Antibiotics for Acute Bronchitis

Antibiotics for Acute Bronchitis


Generic Name Brand Name
clarithromycin Biaxin
doxycycline Doxycin, Vibramycin
trimethoprim and sulfamethoxazole combination Septra, Sulfatrim

How It Works

Antibiotics slow or stop the growth of bacteria or kill them.

Why It Is Used

If you have no other health problems, experts recommend that antibiotics not be used for acute bronchitis . 1 Antibiotics are almost never helpful for acute bronchitis and they are often harmful. Whether your doctor prescribes antibiotics and what type depend on the type of infection you have, your age, any other medical conditions you have, and your risk of complications from acute bronchitis, such as pneumonia .

How Well It Works

For people with acute bronchitis who also have symptoms of a cold but no signs of pneumonia, the use of antibiotics is not generally effective and may cause side effects and contribute to antibiotic resistance

Research on antibiotics and acute bronchitis reports that antibiotics reduce coughing slightly, but may cause side effects and contribute to antibiotic resistance.

Side Effects

All medicines have side effects. But many people don’t feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.

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Here are some important things to think about:

  • Usually the benefits of the medicine are more important than any minor side effects.
  • Side effects may go away after you take the medicine for a while.
  • If side effects still bother you and you wonder if you should keep taking the medicine, call your doctor. He or she may be able to lower your dose or change your medicine. Do not suddenly quit taking your medicine unless your doctor tells you to.

Call 911 or other emergency services right away if you have:

  • Trouble breathing.
  • Swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.

Call your doctor if you have:

  • Hives.

Different types of antibiotics have different side effects. Common side effects include:

  • Diarrhea.
  • Nausea, vomiting, and upset stomach.
  • Mouth sores.
  • Skin rash.
  • Dizziness or headache.
  • Increased sensitivity to sun (sunburn easily).
  • Vaginal yeast infection.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

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What To Think About

The benefits of antibiotics for acute bronchitis are small and must be weighed against the risk of side effects and the possibility of antibiotic resistance.

If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.

Although smokers with acute bronchitis receive antibiotics more than non-smokers, antibiotics are no more effective in smokers than in non-smokers. 2

If you have pneumonia  or a chronic respiratory disease, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) , asthma , cystic fibrosis , orbronchiectasis , other antibiotics may be used.

Taking medicine

Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. Taking medicine as your doctor suggests will improve your health and may prevent future problems. If you don’t take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.

There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.

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Advice for women

If you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant, do not use any medicines unless your doctor tells you to. Some medicines can harm your baby. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbs, and supplements. And make sure that all your doctors know that you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant.


Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It’s also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.




  1. Wenzel RP (2012). Acute bronchitis and tracheitis. In L Goldman, A Shafer, eds., Goldman’s Cecil Medicine, 24th ed., pp. 586–587. Philadelphia: Saunders.
  2. Wark P (2011). Bronchitis, search date March 2010. BMJ Clinical Evidence. Available online: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.

Last Revised: July 29, 2013

Author: Healthwise Staff

Medical Review: E. Gregory Thompson, MD – Internal Medicine & Anne C. Poinier, MD – Internal Medicine & Robert L. Cowie, MB, FCP(SA), MD, MSc, MFOM – Pulmonology