Next time you’ve got a cough, you should reach for soothing honey instead of antibiotics, according to new guidelines from Public Health England (PHE) and The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).
And if honey fails to hit the spot, the health bodies recommend trying over-the-counter cough remedies instead. They explain antibiotics make little difference to cough symptoms in most cases, so should not be the first port of call.
The new guidelines, aimed at medical professionals and the public, hope to help tackle the rising problem of antibiotic resistance.
In most cases acute coughs are caused by a cold or flu virus, or bronchitis, and last around three weeks.
And there is some evidence honey and over-the-counter cough medicines containing pelargonium, guaifenesin or dextromethorphan do relieve symptoms, so people should try these before contacting a health professional.
Dr Tessa Lewis, GP and chair of the Antimicrobial Prescribing Guideline Group, said: “If someone has a runny nose, sore throat and cough we would expect the cough to settle over 2-3 weeks and antibiotics are not needed. People can check their symptoms on NHS Choices or NHS Direct Wales or ask their pharmacist for advice.
“If the cough is getting worse rather than better or the person feels very unwell or breathless then they would need to contact their GP.”
PHE’s Dr Susan Hopkins said antibiotic resistance is “a huge problem” and urged professionals and the public to “take action now”.
“Taking antibiotics when you don’t need them puts you and your family at risk of developing infections which in turn cannot be easily treated,” she said. “These new guidelines will support GPs to reduce antibiotic prescriptions and we encourage patients to take their GPs advice about self-care.”
An antibiotic may be necessary for an acute cough when a person has been identified as being systematically unwell or if they are at risk of further complications for example, people with a pre-existing condition such as lung disease, immunosuppression or cystic fibrosis.
Clear information about the most appropriate choice of antibiotic and duration of the course are outlined in the new draft guidelines.
Professor Mark Baker, director of the centre for guidelines at NICE said: “This guideline gives health professionals and patients the information they need to make good choices about the use of antibiotics. We encourage their use only when a person is at risk of further complications.”