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Kill your cough with water, not antibiotics

GEHA | October 8, 2020

Health and wellness
The next time you feel a tickle in your throat or cough coming on, slow down.

As the weather turns cooler, it’s not unusual to discover a cough or soreness in the chest. These symptoms are often caused by acute bronchitis.

Bronchitis is when the airways in the lungs swell and create mucus. Oxygen has a harder time moving through the restricted airway and collides with the mucus, causing you to cough. Typically, these symptoms last less than three weeks, if you don’t have heart or lung problems or a weakened immune system.

In addition to coughs, you may experience the following symptoms while fighting bronchitis:

  • Sore chest
  • Feeling tired
  • Mild headache
  • Mild body aches
  • Watering eyes
  • Sore throat

See your physician if you have any of the following symptoms. If you don’t have a primary care physician, use the GEHA Find Care tool to locate an in-network physician near you.

  • Temperature greater than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Bloody mucus with cough
  • Trouble breathing or shortness of breath
  • Symptoms persisting longer than three weeks
  • Frequent, consecutive bouts of bronchitis

Left untreated, bronchitis usually gets better on its own. Just get lots of rest, drink lots of fluids, and use a clean humidifier, mist vaporizer or breathe in steam from a bowl of hot water or shower. Drinking plenty of water helps thin the buildup and drainage in your lungs and throat, making it easier to clear them out.

One thing you definitely do not want to do with acute bronchitis is take an antibiotic. As the name implies, antibiotics work by fighting bacteria. Bronchitis is caused by a virus, not a bacteria. Therefore, an antibiotic has no effect on bronchitis.

Even worse, taking an antibiotic unnecessarily may lower how effective that antibiotic might be when you actually do need to take it. It also may produce a rash or diarrhea.

The next time you feel a tickle in your throat or cough coming on, slow down. Get more rest, drink more fluids and wait several days to see if the condition improves on its own.

“Preventing and Treating Bronchitis.”, Centers for Disease Control, no date provided.
“Chest Cold (Acute Bronchitis).”, Centers for Disease Control, 30 August, 2019.
“Antibiotics.”, National Institutes of Health, 17 August, 2020.
“Stay hydrated with COPD.”, Lung Health Institute, 28 August, 2016.