As flu is a viral infection and not a bacterial one, antibiotics are not suitable medications for treatment. If taken with the intent of treating flu-like symptoms you may increase your risk of getting a bacterial infection later on, which will be resistant to antibiotic treatment.
Antiviral medications are available to help alleviate symptoms of flu. Antibiotics will only be prescribed by your doctor if he or she diagnoses a secondary bacterial infection requiring treatment as well.
Antiviral medications assist in decreasing the severity and duration of flu symptoms, and are best taken within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. Most antivirals available do have side effects, so it is important to consult your doctor to discuss your overall condition before taking them.
Antiviral medications are also beneficial for children to take as they can help a child recover sooner and thereby prevent any potential serious complications. Treatment can depend on the symptoms you are experiencing.
Treating the symptoms associated with flu
- For nasal or sinus congestion: A decongestant can be helpful to reduce swelling in the nasal passageways. Decongestants come in both oral or nasal spray forms. Nasal spray decongestants are not usually recommended for use for more than a 3 days as rebound symptoms can occur if use stops for a short period and is then used again. Saline sprays (instead of a medicated spray) can also provide some relief, helping to loosen thick mucus from the nasal passages but have no rebound effect. If you have high blood pressure it is strongly advisable to consult your doctor before taking a decongestant as some can elevate heart rate and cause further complications.
- For a runny nose, postnasal drip, or itchy, watery eyes: An antihistamine will help to block the effect of ‘histamine’ and provide relief from sneezing, itching and nasal discharge. Antihistamines can often make people feel drowsy.
- For a cough: An occasional cough can help to clear the lungs of excess phlegm and other pollutants. If a cough persists, a doctor will need to diagnose and treat specific symptoms experienced. An array of over-the-counter cough medicines are easily available for any type of cough (for instance dry or chesty). Ask your pharmacist for assistance in selecting the one most appropriate for your symptoms.
- For fever and body aches: Over-the-counter medications (also safe for children with fever and pain symptoms) include acetaminophen, ibuprofen and naproxen. Your pharmacist will be able to assist you with selecting one that will provide the best relief for your symptoms. It is not recommended to give children aspirin to alleviate pain and fever. It has been found that aspirin is linked to a potentially fatal illness called Reye’s syndrome (a swelling in the brain, liver and other organs). Although rare, the risk is especially high in children. Paracetamol and ibuprofen are better options for treating pain and fever in children.
- For a sore throat: Drinking plenty of fluids and using salt water gargles (1 cup of warm water and a teaspoon of salt) is helpful in alleviating the pain of a sore throat. Over-the-counter pain relievers, medicated lozenges and gargles can also help soothe a sore throat for a period of a few days when symptoms are at their worst. If pain and sensitivity persists past a few days, some medications which you may still be using can mask signs of strep throat, which will need to be treated with prescribed antibiotics.
Over-the-counter and prescribed medications are sometimes mixed with other multi-symptom cold and flu remedies, so it strongly advisable to run the combinations you intend to take by your pharmacist or doctor beforehand. You can easily overdose, experience complications or bad reactions due to specific ingredients in medications.
Home remedies for flu
- Breathing aromatic steam: fill a bathroom, sink or bowl with steamy water, drape a towel over your head and lean over the steam. Place some fresh ginger or a few drops of eucalyptus oil in the water to help clear the nasal passages and congestion.
- Taking a warm shower: steamy air helps to clear your head and chest while moistening and thinning out mucus in your sinuses.