Antibiotics may help to treat asthma under certain circumstances, such as when a bacterial infection is present. However, the potential benefits may not outweigh the risks of side effects and antibiotic resistance.

Asthma is a chronic condition in which the airways become narrow and inflamed, making breathing more difficult. The condition affects around 7.8% of people in the United States.

Antibiotics are a type of medication that can treat bacterial infections. Although bacterial infection may play a role in the development of some cases of asthma, experts must conduct more research to determine whether antibiotics can effectively treat asthma.

Overprescribing antibiotics can lead to antibiotic resistance, where bacteria become resistant to a medication. Doctors may weigh up this risk and consider other treatments before prescribing antibiotics.

This article looks at whether antibiotics can treat asthma, when doctors might prescribe them, and how to take antibiotics for asthma. It also looks at safety, side effects, and whether antibiotics might trigger asthma.

Antibiotics are medications that can treat bacterial infections. They either kill bacteria or prevent it from growing.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that antibiotics can treat certain bacterial infections, such as urinary tract infections (UTIs) and strep throat.

However, antibiotics cannot treat all bacterial infections, such as some ear and sinus infections. Antibiotics also cannot treat viruses, such as cold and flu viruses.

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), some factors that could cause asthma or increase a person’s risk of developing asthma may include:

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology suggests that bacterial infections can be an asthma trigger. However, they do not cause all asthma cases.

A 2017 study suggests that doctors can treat asthma symptomatically without antibiotics. Although antibiotics may be part of a treatment regimen, doctors may only need to prescribe them when symptoms indicate a bacterial infection.

Can antibiotics trigger asthma?

The CDC does not list antibiotics as a common trigger for asthma.

However, a 2019 research article suggests that taking antibiotics within the first year of life may increase the risk of developing asthma.

The researchers also note a significant link between asthma and the number of times a person takes antibiotics over their lifetime.

Doctors may consider antibiotics as a treatment for asthma when a person has a bacterial respiratory infection.

Doctors may also prescribe antibiotics for severe or treatment-resistant asthma. A large-scale 2021 study found that some people with asthma that is difficult to treat experienced a reduction in symptoms after taking antibiotics.

Which antibiotics would a doctor prescribe?

A 2018 review article and a 2021 article discuss the following antibiotics as potential treatments for asthma:

Which antibiotic is best for asthma?

A 2017 article suggests that azithromycin may be effective in reducing asthma attacks and improving the quality of life of people with severe asthma, compared with placebos.

The researchers suggest that azithromycin may be effective as an additional treatment for people with persistent asthma.

Learn how to manage an asthma attack.

A person should follow their doctor’s guidance when taking antibiotics for asthma.

Since antibiotics are not a standard asthma treatment, a doctor might only prescribe a short course to treat specific respiratory infections that may be exacerbating asthma symptoms. They may also prescribe antibiotics alongside other treatment and management strategies.

Overprescribing antibiotics may lead to side effects and antibiotic resistance.

Antibiotic resistance

Antibiotic resistance is a serious health concern. Overuse of antibiotics can allow bacteria to develop defenses against drugs and continue to grow. This can cause some illnesses to become impossible to treat.

According to the CDC, antimicrobial resistance causes 2.8 million infections and over 35,000 deaths per year in the U.S.

Antimicrobial resistance is a broader term to describe resistance to drugs that treat infections caused by bacteria and other microbes.

The CDC highlights the following as potential side effects of antibiotics:

Severe side effects can include:

  • severe allergic reaction, which can be life threatening
  • antibiotic-resistant infection
  • Clostridioides difficile infection, which can lead to serious colon damage and can be life threatening

A person should follow their doctor’s guidance when taking antibiotics. They can inform their doctor of any side effects they experience.

According to the NHLBI, treatments for asthma include:

  • Short-acting beta2-agonists (SABAs): These are quick-relief medications that a person can inhale to help open their airways during an asthma attack.
  • Short-acting anticholinergics: This medication helps to open airways and can benefit people who experience side effects from SABAs.
  • Oral corticosteroids: This medication can reduce airway swelling, which severe asthma symptoms may cause.
  • Corticosteroids in pill or inhalable form: This medication reduces bodily inflammation.
  • Subcutaneous immunotherapy: These are allergy shots that reduce the body’s response to allergens.
  • Leukotriene modifiers: This is a medication in pill form that helps reduce swelling and open the airways.
  • Biologic medicines: A doctor may inject this type of medication into a person to treat severe asthma.
  • Inhaled long-acting bronchodilators: These medications can help prevent the airways from becoming narrow.
  • Inhaled mast cell stabilizers: These help prevent airway swelling, which allergens may cause.

Below are answers to some frequently asked questions about antibiotics and asthma.

Do antibiotics help asthmatic bronchitis?

Bronchitis is inflammation of the tubes that carry air to and from a person’s lungs. In some cases, asthma can cause this inflammation or occur alongside it.

Antibiotics are not a typical treatment for asthmatic bronchitis. However, doctors may consider antibiotics if a person also has a bacterial infection.

Can antibiotics help an asthma cough?

If a bacterial infection is causing symptoms such as a cough in a person with asthma, a doctor may consider prescribing antibiotics.

However, there is not enough evidence to support the use of antibiotics to treat symptoms of asthma, such as coughing.

Because antibiotics are only able to treat certain bacterial infections, and bacterial infections are not a major cause of asthma, these medications may not be an effective treatment for some people.

In certain cases, a doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat underlying infections that may contribute to asthma, or in cases where asthma is resistant to other treatments.

However, overuse of antibiotics contributes to antibiotic resistance and can lead to side effects. So a doctor may consider alternative treatment options first.

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