Treatments to End the Flu
Drugs and treatments for the flu
Treating the flu mainly means relieving major symptoms until your body clears the infection.
Antibiotics aren’t effective against the flu because it’s caused by a virus, not bacteria. But your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat any secondary bacterial infection that may be present. They’ll likely recommend some combination of self-care and medication to treat 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 65 years old and up, women who are pregnant or up to two weeks postpartum, and people who have weakened immune systems.
In most cases, however, the flu just needs to run its course. The best treatments for people with the flu are lots of rest and plenty of fluids. You may not have much of an appetite, but it’s important to eat regular meals to keep up your strength.
Stay home from work or school, and don’t go back until your symptoms subside.
To bring down a fever, place a cool, damp washcloth on your forehead or take a cool bath. You may also use over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers and fever reducers, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin).
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.
OTC medications won’t shorten the length of the flu, but they can help reduce symptoms.
OTC pain relievers can lessen the headache and back and muscle pain that often accompanies the flu. In addition to the fever reducers acetaminophen and ibuprofen, other effective pain relievers are naproxen (Aleve) and aspirin (Bayer).
However, aspirin should never be given to children or teenagers for treating flu-like symptoms. It could lead to Reye’s syndrome, which results in brain and liver damage. This is a rare but serious and sometimes fatal disease.
Cough suppressants reduce the cough reflex. They’re useful in controlling dry coughs without mucus. An example of this type of drug is dextromethorphan (Robitussin).
Decongestants can relieve a runny, stuffy nose from the flu. Some decongestants found in OTC flu medications include pseudoephedrine (in Sudafed) and phenylephrine (in DayQuil).
People with high blood pressure are generally told to avoid this type of medication, since it may increase blood pressure.
Itchy or watery eyes aren’t common flu symptoms. But if you do have them, antihistamines can help. First-generation antihistamines have sedative effects that may also help you sleep. Examples include:
To avoid drowsiness, you may want to try second-generation medications, such as:
loratadine (Claritin, Alavert)
Many OTC cold and flu medications combine two or more classes of drugs. This helps them treat a variety of symptoms at the same time. A walk down the cold and flu aisle at your local pharmacy will show you the variety.
Prescription medications: Antiviral drugs
Prescription antiviral drugs can help lessen flu symptoms and prevent related complications. These drugs prevent the virus from growing and replicating.
By reducing viral replication and shedding, these medications slow the spread of infection in cells within the body. This helps your immune system deal with the virus more effectively. They allow for a faster recovery and may lessen the time when you’re contagious.
Common antiviral prescriptions include neuraminidase inhibitors:
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)Trusted Source also approved a new medication called baloxavir marboxil (Xofluza) in October 2018. It can treat people 12 years or older who have had flu symptoms for less than 48 hours. It works differently than the neuraminidase inhibitors.
For maximum effectiveness, antiviral drugs must be taken within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. If taken right away, antiviral medications can also help shorten the duration of the flu.
Antiviral medications are also used in flu prevention. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), neuraminidase inhibitors have a 70 to 90 percentTrusted Source success rate in preventing the flu.
During a flu outbreak, a doctor will often give high-risk individuals an antiviral along with the flu vaccine. This combination helps bolster their defenses against infection.
People who can’t be vaccinated can help their body’s defenses by taking an antiviral drug. These individuals include infants younger than 6 months and people who are allergic to the vaccine.
However, the CDC advises that these medications shouldn’t replace your annual flu vaccine. They also warn that overusing these types of medications can increase the risk of strains of the virus becoming resistant to antiviral therapy.
Overuse can also limit availability for high-risk individuals who need this medication to prevent serious flu-related illness.
Commonly prescribed antiviral medications
The antiviral medications most commonly prescribed are:
Zanamivir is approvedTrusted Source by FDA to treat the flu in people who are at least 7 years old. It’s approved to prevent the flu in people who are at least 5 years old. It comes in a powder and is administered via an inhaler.
According to the Mayo Clinic, you shouldn’t take zanamivir if you have any type of chronic respiratory problem, such as asthma or any chronic lung disease. It could cause airway constriction and difficulty breathing.
Oseltamivir is FDA-approvedTrusted Source to treat the flu in people of any age and to prevent the flu in people who are at least 3 months old. Oseltamivir is taken orally in the form of a capsule.
The FDA also warnsTrusted Source that Tamiflu can put people, especially children and teenagers, at risk for confusion and self-injury.
Both medications can cause unwanted side effects, including:
Always discuss potential medication side effects with your doctor.