ZocdocAnswersWhy aren't the antibiotics helping my respiratory infection?

Question

Why aren't the antibiotics helping my respiratory infection?

I went to the doctor with a cough that wouldn't go away that turned into a sore throat. He gave me antibiotics for a respiratory infection. Took them all. Still coughing though. Why didn't the antibiotics make my cough go away?

Answer

First of all I am very sorry to hear that you have been dealing with a cough and sore throat for some time. I am also sorry to hear that the antibiotics that you were given didn't necessarily help you at all. Unfortunately this isn't an uncommon story. There are a couple different things that I think might be going on. First of all is that you may have not had a bacterial infection in the first place (which is what antibiotics treat). By far the more common cause of cough, coryza (feeling crummy), and sore throat is viral. So unless your physician actually tested you for specific bacteria (like strep) that they were trying to treat, they may have been treating you empirically. So if it was a virus (most common cause) then the antibiotics wouldn't help. Another possible scenario is that the antibiotics did actually help, or your body has actually started to overcome the infection (even if it is viral), but you have some residual cough. This isn't entirely uncommon either as bad coughing can actually irritate the vocal folds, causing inflammation and irritation, which makes it feel like you have something in your throat, so you keep coughing. Even after the initial infectious agent that caused the cough is gone. This is a harder scenario to diagnose, but is something that an ENT could help you out with. More viruses run their course in 7-10 days, and then the residual irritation should go away a couple weeks after that. So if you have had your cough for more than a month, it is probably reasonable to make an appointment to get checked out by an ENT. I hope this is helpful. Best of luck.

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