Patients should treat their coughs and colds with honey and over-the-counter remedies before going to the doctor, health officials say.
New draft guidance from Public Health England (PHE) and the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is advising GPs not to offer antibiotics in most cases.
Instead, they must encourage patients to use self-care products.
The advice is part of a growing effort to tackle antibiotic resistance.
Acute coughs are mostly caused by a cold or flu virus, or bronchitis, and will last for around three weeks, according to the guidance.
Antibiotics make little difference to symptoms and can have side-effects – unnecessary prescriptions reduce their effectiveness.
Patients are instead advised to try honey or cough medicines containing pelargonium, guaifenesin or dextromethorphan, which have been shown to have some benefit for cough symptoms, before contacting their doctor.
These ingredients are found in medicines sold in pharmacies, such as Beechams and Lemsip.
Antibiotics may be necessary treat coughs in patients with pre-existing conditions such as lung disease, immunosuppression or cystic fibrosis, or those at risk of further complications, the guidance states.
Dr Tessa Lewis, GP and chairwoman of the antimicrobial prescribing guidelines group, said: "If someone has a runny nose, sore throat and cough, we would expect the cough to settle over two to three weeks and antibiotics are not needed.
"People can check their symptoms on NHS Choices or NHS Direct Wales or ask their pharmacist for advice.
"If the cough is getting worse rather than better, or the person feels very unwell or breathless, then they would need to contact their GP."
Dr Susan Hopkins, from PHE, said: "Antibiotic resistance is a huge problem and we need to take action now to reduce antibiotic use.
"Taking antibiotics when you don't need them puts you and your family at risk of developing infections which in turn cannot be easily treated.
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"These new guidelines will support GPs to reduce antibiotic prescriptions and we encourage patients to take their GPs advice about self-care."
A consultation on the draft guidance will close on 20 September.