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Flu Treatment from WebMD

Flu Treatment



Need help deciding which treatments are effective for the flu and swine flu? Wonder how you can manage flu and swine flu symptoms? Though flu treatments won't cure the flu or swine flu, there are flu treatments that can relieve common flu symptoms such as fever, aches, fatigue, and congestion. Some flu treatments may actually shorten the time you have flu symptoms. However, the FDA and manufacturers now say that over-the-counter cough and cold medicines should not be given to children under 4.

Which flu treatments can I take for swine flu?

If you have flu symptoms, and there has been a swine flu outbreak in your area, it’s a good idea to call your doctor. The doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication, such as Tamiflu or Relenza. Antiviral drugs treat swine flu by preventing the virus from reproducing inside your body, but they are most effective if you start them within two days of when your symptoms begin. These drugs can also help your symptoms improve faster and can prevent complications of swine flu.

There is no swine flu vaccine. The seasonal flu vaccine is not effective against swine flu.

Which flu treatments should I take for flu symptoms?

The flu treatment you should take depends on your symptoms. For example, if you have nasal or sinus congestion, then a decongestant can be helpful.

Oral decongestants come in many forms -- pills, tablets, capsules, or syrups. Decongestants are used to open the mucous membranes in the nose and help them to drain. However, decongestants should not be used for more than a few days because, if they are used too long and then stopped, they can cause rebound symptoms.

If you have a runny nose, postnasal drip, or itchy, watery eyes -- then an antihistamine may be helpful for your flu symptoms. Antihistamines block the effect of "histamine," and help relieve such annoying symptoms as sneezing, itching, congestion, and nasal discharge.

Over-the-counter antihistamines often make people drowsy, whereas decongestants can make people hyper or keep them awake. Antihistamines can make mucus thick, which can be a problem if you have lung disease such as COPD or asthma. Keep in mind that both decongestants and antihistamines can interact with other drugs you may be taking for conditions such as heart disease, and they may worsen some conditions. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about which flu treatment may be best for you.

Which flu treatment should I use for nasal congestion?

If you need immediate relief for swollen, congested nasal passages, you may get relief with an over-the-counter decongestant nasal spray such as oxymetazoline (Afrin) and phenylephrine (Neo-Synephrine). It is important to stop using decongestant nasal sprays after three to five days to avoid the development of rebound congestion or recurrent congestion.

Some doctors suggest using a saline spray instead of a medicated spray. Saline spray works more slowly but has no rebound effect. It may be used for extended periods of time without significant side effects.

Is it safe to take a decongestant if I have high blood pressure?

Decongestants can increase blood pressure and heart rate and increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Pseudoephedrine is the primary oral decongestant available. In general, if your blood pressure is well controlled with medications, then a decongestant shouldn't be a problem as long as you monitor your blood pressure. This may not be true, however, with certain types of blood pressure medications.

Check with your doctor or pharmacist about which type of medicine may be best for you.

Which flu treatment works best for my cough?

An occasional cough may clear the lung of pollutants and excess phlegm. A persistent cough should be diagnosed and treated specifically. On the pharmacy shelf, you'll find numerous cough medicines with various combinations of decongestants, antihistamines, analgesics/antipyretics, cough suppressants, and expectorants. Ask your pharmacist which combination, if any, would be right for your cough.

Which flu treatment should I take to lower my fever and body aches?

Fever may be a good thing. It helps the body fight off infection by suppressing the growth of bacteria and viruses and activating the immune system. Doctors no longer recommend suppressing fever for most people, except perhaps for the very young, the very old, and those with certain medical conditions such as heart disease or lung disease. However, if you are uncomfortable, then it's fine to take medications.

Young people (including those in their early 20s) should avoid aspirin. Acetaminophen (Tylenol and others) or the numerous other medicines like ibuprofen (Advil and others) are your best choices. Each medication has risks. Check with your doctor or pharmacist as to which medication may be best for you.

Be careful not to overdose! These drugs are often mixed in with other cough and cold and flu remedies you may also be taking. Your pharmacist can help you make the right choice.

Which flu treatment is best for my sore throat?

Drinking lots of fluids and using salt water gargles (made by combining a cup of warm water and a teaspoon of salt) can often be helpful for easing the pain of a sore throat. Some oral medications (such as Tylenol) and medicated lozenges and gargles can also temporarily soothe a sore throat. Get your doctor's approval before using any medications, including over-the-counter drugs, and don't use lozenges or gargles for more than a few days. The medications could mask signs of strep throat, a bacterial infection that should be treated with antibiotics.

Is an antiviral drug a commonly used flu treatment?

Flu drugs or antivirals are taken at the onset of flu. These flu drugs are taken to decrease the severity and duration of flu symptoms. Some antivirals treat or prevent type A flu strain while others treat or prevent type A and B flu strains. Because the strains of flu are constantly changing, it's important to take the right antiviral when you first get flu symptoms. Talk to your doctor about your health situation because most antivirals do have side effects.

What are the recommended antiviral drugs for children?

Antiviral drugs are available by prescription to treat and prevent flu and swine flu in children. In some cases, the antiviral drugs can be used to prevent infection from flu. These flu drugs block the replication of the flu virus, preventing its spread.

Talk to your child's doctor about the antiviral drugs because, to be useful, they must be given as soon as flu symptoms start. Starting treatment with these flu medications within 2 days after flu symptoms begin may reduce the severity of flu symptoms and the time flu lasts in children by at least 1 day.

For more information, see WebMD's Flu Treatment: Antiviral Medications for Children.

Can antibiotics help my flu symptoms?

Antibiotics cannot help flu symptoms. The flu is caused by a virus, and antibiotics only treat bacterial infections. Taking antibiotics needlessly may increase your risk of getting an infection later that resists antibiotic treatment. If you get a secondary bacterial infection with the flu virus, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic to treat the secondary infection.

If your doctor does prescribe an antibiotic for a sinus infection or respiratory tract infection associated with flu, and you do not get relief within a few days, check back with your doctor to see if the antibiotic is working for your particular infection. Certain bacteria have become resistant to some antibiotics in some locales, and stronger medications may be needed.

For more information, see Flu Treatment: Antibiotics or Not?

The following over-the-counter medicines are examples of flu treatments that may help ease flu symptoms.

Type of Medicine
Symptoms Treated
Possible Side Effects
Itchy, runny nose and eyes; sneezing; itchy throat Drowsiness or grogginess, upset stomach, dry mouth, impaired coordination and judgment, urinary retention, loss of appetite, excitability (in children)
Sudafed Congestion and pressure in head, nose, and ears Lightheadedness, wakefulness, nervousness, restlessness (jittery and shaky), increased blood pressure and heart rate, irregular heart beat



Allegra D
Chlor-Trimeton D
Claritin D
Tavist D

Itchy, runny nose and eyes; sneezing; congestion Possible antihistamine and/or decongestant side effects

pain reliever

Advil Cold and Sinus
Comtrex Day/Night
Tylenol Allergy Sinus
Itchy, runny nose and eyes; sneezing; congestion; headache Possible antihistamine and/or decongestant side effects
Saline nose sprays
Ayr Saline
Nasal stuffiness None
nose spray
Dristan Nasal Spray
Nasal stuffiness Might lead to "rebound" congestion from dependence on the medicine if used for more than 3 days
Antihistamine eye drops
Visine-A (Formerly OcuHist) Itchy, watery eyes; eye redness Temporary stinging in the eyes or blurred vision, "rebound" redness of the eyes if overused