A new study has found that amoxicillin, an antibiotic typically used to treat coughs and bronchitis, is no more effective than using no medication at all.
The research, carried out by scientists at the University of Southampton, shows that the antibiotic does not even help relieve symptoms of lower respiratory tract infections (LRTI) in older people compared with using no medication.
As part of the study, the largest randomised placebo controlled trial of antibiotics for LRTI, 2,061 adults from across 12 countries in Europe were given either amoxicillin or a placebo three times a day for a week.
The doctors noted a minimal difference in the severity or duration of symptoms reported between the two groups, even for older patients.
Although more patients in the placebo group experienced new or worsening symptoms - 19.3% compared to 15.9% - just two patients needed hospital treatment. One person in the antibiotic group also required a hospital stay.
The study, which is published in Online First in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, also shows that almost three in 10 (28.7%) patients in the antibiotic group suffered side effects such as nausea, rash, and diorrhoea, compared with around a quarter (24%) of those taking the placebo.
Paul Little, who lead the UK research, said: “Patients given amoxicillin don’t recover much quicker or have significantly fewer symptoms.
“Using amoxicillin to treat respiratory infections in patients not suspected of having pneumonia is not likely to help and could be harmful.”
He added that the results show most people are able to get better on their own although antibiotics remain useful for a small number of patients.