Because coughs are caused primarily by viruses, they typically disappear after a few weeks, according to the Public Health England and the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence.
Antibiotics, on the other hand, don’t do much at all to relieve symptoms and can lead to unwanted side effects. Taking them when you don’t need to can also put you at risk of developing new infections.
Instead, patients should opt for self-care remedies like honey or lemon, or cough medicines with ingredients like pelargonium, guaifenesin or dextromethorphan, all known to help alleviate cough symptoms.
» RELATED: Taking antibiotics while pregnant may put future children at risk, study says
Still, researchers note, antibiotics may be an important option when an individual’s cough is part of an underlying illness, or if there are further complications involved.
"If the cough is getting worse rather than better, or the person feels very unwell or breathless," then it's smart to contact a doctor, Tessa Lewis, a doctor on the team behind the U.K.'s antimicrobial prescription guidelines, told BBC News.
Honey is also not recommended for children under age one, as it may contain bacteria that leads to infant botulism.
» RELATED: Puppies infect 55 people with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, CDC says
In the United States, the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also advises patients to rest, take advantage of over-the-counter remedies and use other self-care methods to recover from flu-like or common cold symptoms, including cough, sore throat and runny nose, before reaching for the antibiotics. Honey is a safe option for 1-year-olds and older.
Other ways to combat cough symptoms, according to the CDC:
- Use a clean humidifer
- Use a cool mist vaporizer
- Breathe in steam from a bowl of hot water or shower
- Use non-medicated lozenges (not for young children)
But always check with your doctor first to ensure there are no other underlying conditions related to the cough.
More about the new U.K. guidelines at nice.org.uk.