The diagnosis and treatment of acute cough in adults

Felix Holzinger, Sabine Beck, Lorena Dini, Christiane Stöter, Christoph Heintze
Deutsches Ärzteblatt International 2014 May 16, 111 (20): 356-63

BACKGROUND: Cough is the most common complaint for which patients visit their primary care physician, being present in about 8% of consultations. A profusion of new evidence has made it necessary to produce a comprehensively updated version of the guideline on cough of the German College of General Practitioners and Family Physicians (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Allgemeinmedizin und Familienmedizin, DEGAM), which was last issued in 2008.

METHOD: The interdisciplinary evidence and consensus based S3 guideline on cough of the DEGAM was updated on the basis of a systematic review of the relevant literature published from 2003 to July 2012 (MEDLINE, Cochrane Library, EMBASE, Web of Science). Evidence levels were assessed and consensus procedures were followed as prescribed by AWMF standards, with the participation of 7 medical societies.

RESULTS: 182 publications were used to update the guideline, including 45 systematic reviews (26 of which included a meta-analysis) and 17 randomized controlled trials (RCTs). 11 recommendations for acute cough were approved by consensus in a nominal group process. The history and physical examination are the basis of diagnostic evaluation. When the clinical diagnosis is that of an acute, uncomplicated bronchitis, no laboratory tests, sputum evaluation, or chest x-rays should be performed, and antibiotics should not be given. There is inadequate evidence for the efficacy of antitussive or expectorant drugs against acute cough. The state of the evidence for phytotherapeutic agents is heterogeneous. Persons with community-acquired pneumonia should receive empirical antibiotic treatment for 5 to 7 days; specific risk factors can influence the choice of drug to be used. It is recommended that laboratory tests should not be performed and neuraminidase inhibitors should not be given in the routine management of influenza.

CONCLUSION: A specifically intended effect of these recommendations is to reduce the use of antibiotics to treat colds and acute bronchitis, for which they are not indicated. Further clinical trials of treatments for cough should be performed in order to extend the evidence base, which is now fragmentary.

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