Chest colds: Do antibiotics help?

Are antibiotics really necessary to treat a chest cold? In this video, Dr. Anthony Levinson and infectious disease expert Dr. Zain Chagla discuss acute bronchitis, what it is, common symptoms, how it is best treated, and the role that antibiotics might play. Meet Helen, who woke up with a sudden onset of a new, dry cough; and coughed consistently throughout the day for 48 hours.


Learn the answers to the following questions:

  • What is acute bronchitis?
  • What are the main signs and symptoms of acute bronchitis?
  • How is acute bronchitis typically diagnosed?
  • Do antibiotics work to treat acute bronchitis?
  • Why might antibiotics be prescribed to treat acute bronchitis?
  • What can you do to help manage the symptoms of acute bronchitis?
  • Is there a role for cough suppressants?
  • What are the preventative measures to avoid getting acute bronchitis?
  • Does prolonged acute bronchitis indicate the need for antibiotics?


Want to test your knowledge? After watching the video take this quick 5-question quiz.

Give us your feedback with this 15-second survey.

Browse all video posts.

Get the latest content first. Sign up for free weekly email alerts.
Author Details
Author Details


  1. McMaster Optimal Aging Portal. For acute bronchitis, antibiotics can reduce cough by about half a day but can cause side-effects. (n.d.). Accessed August 20, 2021. Available from:
  2. McMaster Optimal Aging Portal. Antibiotics for acute bronchitis. (n.d.). Accessed August 20, 2021. Available from:
  3. Smith SM, Fahey T, Smucny J, Becker LA. Antibiotics for acute bronchitis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017;(6). doi:10.1002/14651858.CD000245.pub4
  4. Wark P. Bronchitis (acute). BMJ Clin Evid. 2015 Jul:1508.
  5. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Acute Bronchitis. (n.d.). Accessed August 20, 2021. Available from:
  6. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Chest Cold (Acute Bronchitis). 2021. Accessed August 20, 2021. Available from:
  7. Lange P, Parner J, Prescott E, Vestbo J. Chronic bronchitis in an elderly population. Age Ageing. 2003;32(6):636-642. doi:10.1093/ageing/afg108
  8. Martineau AR, Jolliffe DA, Hooper RL, et al. Vitamin D supplementation to prevent acute respiratory tract infections: systematic review and meta-analysis of individual participant data. BMJ. 2017;356. doi:10.1136/bmj.i6583
  9. Choosing Wisely Canada. Using Antibiotics Wisely. (n.d.). Accessed August 20, 2021. Available from:
  10. Choosing Wisely Canada. Using Antibiotics Wisely in Primary Care. (n.d.) Accessed August 20, 2021. Available from:



This work is supported through the McMaster Institute for Research on Aging and funds provided by the Dean and Vice-President, Faculty of Health Sciences at McMaster University.

DISCLAIMER: These summaries are provided for informational purposes only. They are not a substitute for advice from your own health care professional. The summaries may be reproduced for not-for-profit educational purposes only. Any other uses must be approved by the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal (

Many of our Blog Posts were written before the COVID-19 pandemic and thus do not necessarily reflect the latest public health recommendations. While the content of new and old blogs identify activities that support optimal aging, it is important to defer to the most current public health recommendations. Some of the activities suggested within these blogs may need to be modified or avoided altogether to comply with changing public health recommendations. To view the latest updates from the Public Health Agency of Canada, please visit their website.