Treatment of acute bronchitis in adults without underlying lung disease

J Gen Intern Med. 1996 Sep;11(9):557-62. doi: 10.1007/BF02599608.


Objective: To determine whether antibiotic and bronchodilator treatment of acute bronchitis in patients without lung disease is efficacious.

Design: A MEDLINE search of the literature from 1966 to 1995 was done, using "Bronchitis" as the key word. Papers addressing acute bronchitis in adults were used as well as several citations emphasizing pediatric infections. A manual search of papers addressing the microorganisms causing acute bronchitis was also done. Data were extracted manually from relevant publications.

Setting: All published reports were reviewed. Papers dealing with exacerbations of chronic bronchitis were excluded in this review.

Results: Although acute bronchitis has multiple causes, the large majority of cases are of viral etiology. Mycoplasma pneumoniae, Chlamydia pneumoniae, and Bordetella pertussis are the only bacteria identified as contributing to the cause of acute bronchitis in otherwise healthy adults. Nine double-blind, placebo-controlled trials were reviewed. Four studies showed no advantage for doxycycline and one study showed no advantage for erythromycin. One study using erythromycin and one study using trimethoprim and sulfamethoxazole showed that these antibiotics were slightly better than placebo. Two other studies showed an impressive superiority for liquid or inhaled albuterol when compared with erythromycin.

Conclusions: Most studies showed no significant difference between drug and placebo, and the two studies that did showed only small clinical differences. Albuterol had an impressive advantage over erythromycin. Antibiotics should not be used in the treatment of acute bronchitis in healthy persons unless convincing evidence of a bacterial infection is present.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Adult
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Bronchitis / drug therapy*
  • Bronchitis / epidemiology
  • Bronchitis / microbiology
  • Bronchitis / virology
  • Bronchodilator Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Lung Diseases, Obstructive*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Bronchodilator Agents