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- Treatment Overview
Flu Treatment Overview
First steps to consider
- You can treat flu symptoms at home
- Taking OTC pain relievers and other medications can help symptoms. Rest and drink fluids.
When you may need a provider
- Symptoms worsen or fever doesn’t go down when taking fever-reducers.
- Any young children, older adults, and people with chronic conditions who have flu symptoms.
Call 911 or go to the ER if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest pain
- Lasting dizziness
- Severe weakness or muscle pain
- A chronic condition you have is getting worse
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When to see a healthcare provider
See a healthcare provider if your flu symptoms worsen or your fever won’t go down even when you’re taking a fever reducer like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin). A doctor can evaluate your symptoms, confirm you have the flu, and recommend ways to treat it.
Children, older adults, and people with chronic medical conditions should also see their healthcare provider when they have flu symptoms. For these high-risk groups, doctors may recommend an antiviral drug to shorten the illness and help prevent complications.
Go to the ER if you have difficulty breathing, chest pain, lasting dizziness, seizures, severe weakness or muscle pain, or any chronic health conditions you may have are getting worse.
Is there a test for the flu?
Healthcare providers usually diagnose the flu based on symptoms and a physical exam. In some cases, they may order a test, like a PCR test, to confirm you have the flu. PCR tests are often done by swiping the inside of the nose with a cotton swab that is then sent to a lab for testing.
What to expect from your doctor visit
- If you are at high risk for complications from the flu—which can include children, older adults, and people with chronic medical conditions—a doctor may prescribe Tamiflu. Tamiflu is an antiviral drug that can reduce symptoms, shorten the flu, and lower the risk of complications.
- Your doctor will check for other infections, like bronchitis, an ear infection, bronchitis, and pneumonia.
- If you have a bacterial infection, you will be prescribed antibiotics.
Prescription flu medications
- oseltamivir phosphate (Tamiflu)
- zanamivir (Relenza)
- peramivir (Rapivab)
- baloxavir marboxil (Xofluza)
Types of influenza providers
- A primary care provider can treat flu symptoms.
How to treat the flu at home
Influenza (the flu) will get better on its own over time for most people. But you can treat your symptoms like fever, coughs, and muscle aches at home. Flu remedies include OTC medications, rest, drinking a lot of fluids, and natural supplements.
Most of the time, the flu will go away in 1–2 weeks.
The goal is to treat your symptoms. There are several types of OTC medications that can treat fever, headache, sore throat, and muscle aches, runny nose, and cough.
- Pain relievers like acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil) can treat a fever, headache, sore throat, and muscle aches.
- Decongestants and nasal inhalers can treat a stuffy or runny nose.
- Cough suppressants and expectorants can treat cough symptoms (don’t give them to children under 4 years old).
- Some OTC flu medications are a combination of pain relievers, decongestants, antihistamines, and other ingredients.
- Certain natural remedies may help shorten the length of your illness or reduce symptoms, such as vitamin C, vitamin D, and zinc lozenges.
Other non-drug treatments include running a humidifier and drinking warm liquids.
OTC medications for the flu
- Pain relievers: acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
- Decongestants: pseudoephedrine (Sudafed), phenylephrine
- Flu remedies that combine pain relievers, decongestants, and other ingredients: Contac Cold & Flu, Vicks DayQuil
- Cough suppressants: dextromethorphan (do not give to children under 4 years old)
- Expectorants: Mucinex
- Nasal inhalers containing cromolyn sodium: Nasalcrom
- Vitamin C (Emergen-C or Airborne)
- Vitamin D
- Pelargonium sidoides
- Zinc lozenges (Zicam)
Tips for treating the flu
- Get lots of rest.
- Moisturize your airways with nasal irrigation, like saline spray or a Neti pot.
- Set up a humidifier in your bedroom to relieve congestion.
- Honey or lozenges can soothe your throat. (Do not give honey to children under 1 year old.)
- Drink warm liquids like tea and soup.
Wellness and prevention
- Get a flu shot every year