Letters to the Editor

Bronchodilator Therapy in Patients with Acute Bronchitis


Am Fam Physician. 1998 Oct 15;58(6):1303-1304.

to the editor: I read with interest the article “Acute Bronchitis” by Drs. Hueston and Mainous1 in the March 15 issue of American Family Physician. I agree with the authors regarding the limited value of antibiotics in the treatment of this common condition. However, recommendations for the appropriate use of bronchodilator therapy were not clearly stated. Should one base treatment on history alone or on physical examination findings alone? Should peak flow measurements be less than 80 percent of the predicted measurement before treatment is started? How long should bronchodilator therapy be used to treat this condition? Clarification of these issues will help physicians to better care for their patients who have this common condition.


1. Hueston WJ, Mainous AG III. Acute bronchitis. Am Fam Physician. 1998;57:1270–6.

in reply: As Dr. Seehusen points out, antibiotics have not been shown to be beneficial in the treatment of acute bronchitis. Therefore, we do not recommend routine use of antibiotics in patients with acute bronchitis. While it would be convenient to have a “high-risk” profile for patients who are more likely to have a bacterial infection, as we pointed out in our article, there is no way to predict the rare patient who has a bacterial etiology for his or her bronchitis.

As far as treatment to prevent adult-onset asthma is concerned, antibiotics are not justified at this time. Currently, there is no good estimate of how often Chlamydia pneumoniae is the etiologic agent for acute bronchitis, nor is there conclusive proof that Chlamydia infection causes asthma or that early treatment of Chlamydia prevents the development of asthma. For patients with prolonged cough lasting a month or longer, treatment with antibiotics may be cost effective, especially when compared with an expensive evaluation for chronic cough.1 Otherwise, antibiotics should be avoided since they are an unnecessary expense, can cause side effects and may increase resistance to antibiotics.

In response to Dr. Sharkness's questions, the use of bronchodilators, more specifically albuterol, is based on clinical suspicion of acute bronchitis. No aspect of the patient's history or physical findings (including wheezing) or findings on peak flow measurement indicates when albuterol will be most effective. Albuterol can be continued until symptoms are cleared; it should be noted, though, that in the two studies that examined the use of albuterol, 90 percent of patients had resolution of their cough after one week.2,3


1. Hueston WJ. Antibiotics: neither cost effective nor ‘cough’ effective. J Fam Pract. 1997;44:261–5.

2. Hueston WJ. Albuterol delivered by metered-dose inhaler to treat acute bronchitis. J Fam Pract. 1994;39:437–40.

3. Hueston WJ. A comparison of albuterol and erythromycin for the treatment of acute bronchitis. J Fam Pract. 1991;33:476–80.

Send letters to afplet@aafp.org, or 11400 Tomahawk Creek Pkwy., Leawood, KS 66211-2680. Include your complete address, e-mail address, and telephone number. Letters should be fewer than 400 words and limited to six references, one table or figure, and three authors.

Letters submitted for publication in AFP must not be submitted to any other publication. Possible conflicts of interest must be disclosed at time of submission. Submission of a letter will be construed as granting the AAFP permission to publish the letter in any of its publications in any form. The editors may edit letters to meet style and space requirements.

This series is coordinated by Kenny Lin, MD, MPH, Associate Deputy Editor for AFP Online.



Copyright © 1998 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
This content is owned by the AAFP. A person viewing it online may make one printout of the material and may use that printout only for his or her personal, non-commercial reference. This material may not otherwise be downloaded, copied, printed, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any medium, whether now known or later invented, except as authorized in writing by the AAFP. Contact afpserv@aafp.org for copyright questions and/or permission requests.

Want to use this article elsewhere? Get Permissions


Oct 2021

Access the latest issue of American Family Physician

Read the Issue

Email Alerts

Don't miss a single issue. Sign up for the free AFP email table of contents.

Sign Up Now

Navigate this Article