In order to treat the flu, your body must first remove the illness.
Because the flu is brought on by a virus rather than bacteria, antibiotics are ineffective against it. But, if there is a secondary bacterial infection, your doctor might advise antibiotics to treat it. They’ll likely offer some combination of self-care and medication to alleviate your symptoms.
Self-care treatments for the flu
People who are at high risk for flu complications should seek immediate medical attention. High-risk groups include:
- adults ages 65 years and older
- women who are pregnant or up to 2 weeks postpartum
- people who have weakened immune systems
But, the majority of the time, the flu just needs to progress. The best treatments for people with the flu are lots of rest and plenty of fluids.
Even if you might not feel particularly hungry, it’s crucial to eat regularly to maintain your strength.
Stay in from work or school if you can. Wait until your symptoms go away before returning.
Take a chilly bath or apply a cool, damp washcloth to your forehead to reduce a fever.
Other self-care options include the following:
- Have a bowl of hot soup to relieve nasal congestion.
- Gargle with warm salt water to soothe a sore throat.
- Avoid alcohol consumption.
- Stop smoking, if you smoke.
OTC medications won’t shorten the length of the flu, but they can help reduce symptoms.
OTC painkillers can lessen the headache, back, and muscle pain that frequently accompany the flu.
Other efficient painkillers include naproxen (Aleve) and aspirin in addition to the fever-reducing medications acetaminophen and ibuprofen (Bayer).
However, aspirin should never be administered to children or teenagers to treat flu-like symptoms. Reye’s syndrome, which damages the liver and brain, could occur from it. This illness is uncommon yet severe and occasionally fatal.
Cough suppressants lessen the cough reflex. These help with dry coughs that don’t produce any mucus. Dextromethorphan is an instance of this kind of medication (Robitussin).
A runny, congested nose brought on by the virus might be relieved with decongestants. Pseudoephedrine (in Sudafed) and phenylephrine are two examples of decongestants present in over-the-counter flu treatments (in DayQuil).
This sort of drug should normally be avoided by people with high blood pressure because it may raise blood pressure.
Eye irritation or watering are not typical flu symptoms. But if you do, antihistamines can be beneficial. The calming effects of first-generation antihistamines may also aid in sleep. Examples include:
- brompheniramine (Dimetapp)
- dimenhydrinate (Dramamine)
- diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
- doxylamine (NyQuil)
To avoid drowsiness, you may want to try second-generation medications, such as:
- cetirizine (Zyrtec)
- fexofenadine (Allegra)
- loratadine (Claritin, Alavert)
Several OTC cold and flu treatments combine two or more pharmacological classes. This enables them to simultaneously cure a number of problems. You can see the variety by taking a stroll down the cold and flu aisle at your neighborhood pharmacy.
Prescription medications: Antiviral drugs
Antiviral medications available only by prescription can help lessen flu symptoms and prevent complications. These medications stop the virus from spreading and reproducing.
These drugs inhibit the spread of infection in body cells by lowering viral replication and shedding. This improves the efficiency with which your immune system combats the virus. They enable a quicker recovery and may shorten the period during which you are contagious.
Common antiviral prescriptions include neuraminidase inhibitors:
- zanamivir (Relenza)
- oseltamivir (Tamiflu)
- peramivir (Rapivab)
A new drug named baloxavir marboxil (Xofluza) was also approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in October 2018. Anyone over the age of 12 who has experienced flu symptoms for fewer than 48 hours can receive treatment with it. Compared to neuraminidase inhibitors, it operates differently.
Antiviral medications must be administered within 48 hours after the start of symptoms for best results. Antiviral drugs can also help lessen the duration of the flu if administered as soon as possible.
Antiviral drugs are also used to prevent the flu. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), neuraminidase inhibitors have a 70 to 90 percentTrusted Source effectiveness rate in avoiding the flu.
During a flu outbreak, a doctor will frequently administer an antiviral along with the flu vaccine to people who have a higher risk of acquiring the virus. Their resistance to infection is strengthened by this combination.
Those who are unable to receive vaccinations might support their body’s defenses by taking an antiviral medication. Infants under six months of age and those with vaccine allergies are among those who cannot receive the vaccination.
The CDC cautions that these drugs shouldn’t take the place of your regular flu shot. They also caution against abusing these treatments to the point where virus strains develop a resistance to antiviral treatment.
The availability of this medication for those at higher risk who require it to avoid major flu-related illness can also be hampered by overuse.
The most often prescribed antiviral drugs are:
- zanamivir (Relenza)
- oseltamivir (Tamiflu)
Zanamivir has been licensed by the FDA to treat the flu in patients who are at least 7 years old. For those who are at least five years old, it is legal to prevent the flu. It comes in a powder form, and inhalers are used to give it.
If you have any form of chronic respiratory condition, such as asthma or any chronic lung illness, you shouldn’t use zanamivir. It could restrict airways and make breathing difficult.
Oseltamivir is FDA-approvedTrusted Source for the treatment of influenza in patients of any age as well as for the prevention of influenza in infants older than three months. Oseltamivir is ingested orally and comes in pill form.
Always discuss potential medication side effects with your doctor.
The flu vaccine
Although not strictly speaking a medication, a yearly flu vaccination is very helpful in preventing the flu. Anyone aged six months and older should receive an annual flu shot, according to the CDCTrusted Source.
The ideal months for vaccinations are October and November. At the height of flu season, your body will have had plenty time to produce antiviral antibodies. Peak flu season in the US might occur between November and March. Reliable Source.
Not everyone needs the flu shot. When considering whether or whether members of your family should receive this immunization, consult your doctor.