Current management of acute bronchitis in ambulatory care: The use of antibiotics and bronchodilators

Arch Fam Med. 1996 Feb;5(2):79-83. doi: 10.1001/archfami.5.2.79.


Objective: To examine the treatment regimens for acute bronchitis in adults in a Medicaid population seen in ambulatory care settings.

Design: Cross-sectional sample of Kentucky Medicaid claims (July 1, 1993, through June 30, 1994).

Participants: Individuals 18 years old or older seen in an ambulatory setting for acute bronchitis. Anyone with a primary diagnosis of asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease within the time frame was excluded. Twelve hundred ninety-four individuals accounted for 1635 separate outpatient and emergency department encounters for acute bronchitis. Outpatient visits accounted for 89% (n=1448) of the encounters.

Results: In 22% (n=358) of the encounters, no medication was prescribed; in 61% (n=997), antibiotics alone were prescribed, in 3% (n=43), bronchodilators alone were prescribed; and in 14% (n=237), both antibiotics and bronchodilators were prescribed. Some type of medication was more likely to be prescribed in emergency departments than in outpatient settings (P=.04), and antibiotic/bronchodilator combination therapy was more likely to be prescribed in rural practices than in urban practices (P<.001). Broad-spectrum were more likely than narrow-spectrum antibiotics to be used in combination with a bronchodilator (P=.001). Penicillins were the most widely used antibiotics (37%), but broad-spectrum agents, such as second- and third-generation cephalosporins (10%) and fluoroquinolones (5%), were also prescribed.

Conclusions: Although evidence suggests that antibiotic treatment is not usually indicated for treatment of acute bronchitis, these results indicate that antibiotics are still the predominant treatment regimen in ambulatory care. Furthermore, the evidence suggesting that bronchodilators are effective symptomatic treatments has not been widely adopted. These results have significant implications for the production of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and suggest investigation into why physicians have not used this information in their treatment of acute bronchitis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Adult
  • Ambulatory Care
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Bronchitis / drug therapy*
  • Bronchodilator Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Drug Utilization
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Bronchodilator Agents