Clinical management decisions for adults with prolonged acute cough: Frequency and associated factors

Published:December 07, 2018DOI:



      Uncomplicated episodes of prolonged acute cough are usually viral and self-limited, but despite evidence and recommendations to the contrary, they are often treated with antibiotics.


      Mixed cross-sectional and prospective observational study of adults 18 years or older presenting to two urgent care centers with a cough of 7 to 56 days as their chief complaint. Factors associated with cough duration and clinical decisions were analyzed by univariate and multivariate logistic regression.


      Of the 125 enrolled patients, 118 (94%) received an antibiotic, 97 (78%) a cough suppressant, 87 (70%) a systemic corticosteroid, and 39 (31%) a chest X-ray (CXR). Longer duration of cough was associated with the presence of self-reported wheezing or noises (adjusted odds ratio 6.29, 95% CI 1.36–29.16) while the presence of both wheezing and crackles on a clinician chest exam was associated with shorter duration (aOR 0.03, 95% CI 0.00–0.27). A clinician was more likely to order a CXR in patients with dyspnea (aOR 3.01, 95% CI 1.21–7.49), less likely to prescribe a systemic corticosteroid in patients with crackles (aOR 0.27, 95% CI 0.09–0.82), and more likely to prescribe a cough suppressant to older patients (1.04 per additional year of age, 95% CI 1.01–1.07).


      Systemic corticosteroids and cough suppressants are being prescribed at high rates in patients with uncomplicated acute cough in the urgent care setting. Additional studies to determine if similar rates are seen in other urgent care centers, or in other contemporary ambulatory settings are warranted.


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