Mind map of differential diagnosis of cough. See more Allergy and Immunology mind maps here.
Cough is the most common symptom bringing patients to the primary care physician's office. The most common diagnosis in these patients is acute bronchitis, according to a recent review in the official journal of AFP, American Family Physician.
Acute bronchitis should be differentiated from other common causes of cough such as pneumonia and asthma - because the therapies are clearly different.
Symptoms of acute bronchitis typically last 3 weeks. As we already know, the presence of colored (e.g., yellow or green) sputum does not reliably differentiate between bacterial and viral lower respiratory tract infections. This conclusion was contradicted by a recent study: Green or yellow phlegm likely to be bacterial - confirming beliefs by doctors and patients alike (http://goo.gl/zff8X and http://goo.gl/cwKGs).
Viruses cause more than 90% of acute bronchitis, and therefore, antibiotics are generally not indicated. They should be used only if pertussis is suspected to reduce transmission or if the patient is at increased risk of developing pneumonia (e.g., patients 65 years or older).
The typical therapies that have been traditionally used for managing acute bronchitis symptoms have been shown to be ineffective. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends against using cough and cold preparations in children younger than 6 years.
The supplement pelargonium may help reduce symptom severity in adults.
Many patients expect to be treated with antibiotics and cough medications but this differs from evidence-based recommendations.
The CNN video below tries to decipher what hides behind the names of common cough and cold medications:
Diagnosis and treatment of acute bronchitis. Albert RH. Am Fam Physician. 2010 Dec 1;82(11):1345-50.