There is no cure for flu. However, there are things you can do to make yourself more comfortable including the following.
- Drinking enough fluids to prevent dehydration – six to eight glasses a day.
- Using steam inhalations with menthol, salt water nasal sprays or drops may be helpful.
- Vapour rubs may help relieve symptoms for children.
- Drinking hot drinks (particularly with lemon), hot soups or spicy foods can help to ease irritation and pain in your throat and help reduce congestion.
- Sucking sweets or lozenges which contain menthol or eucalyptus may sooth your throat.
- Gargling with salt water may help a sore throat.
- Resting – you may need to stay off work or school for up to a week.
If you have muscle pains, a headache, sinus pain or a sore throat then you can take paracetamol (acetaminophen) or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines, such as ibuprofen, as a painkiller. These medicines will also help to reduce a fever if you have one.
It’s important to check the dose you're taking of different types of medicines. It's easy to accidentally have more than the daily dose by using more than one product, for example tablets, capsules and a hot lemon drink that contain the same active ingredient, such as paracetamol.
Children can take paracetamol and ibuprofen as a liquid. Children under the age of 16 should not take aspirin. Talk to a pharmacist about which painkillers are suitable for your child.
If you have a blocked nose or sinuses then a decongestant may help to ease the symptoms. Nasal sprays can give you relief from a blocked nose for a few hours. Decongestant tablets may also help to ease the symptoms of blocked sinuses. However, you shouldn’t take decongestants for too long as they can cause rebound congestion. Decongestants shouldn’t be given to children under the age of six. If you have high blood pressure or problems with your liver or kidneys, you should talk to a doctor before you take decongestants.
Always read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine and if you have any questions, ask a pharmacist for advice.
Antibiotics aren’t used to treat infections caused by a virus. A doctor may prescribe antibiotics if you develop a secondary infection caused by bacteria, such as a chest infection or an ear infection.
If you’re over the age of 65 or have other health problems which may increase your risk of complications, a doctor may prescribe an antiviral medicine. Antiviral medicines can reduce the length of time your symptoms last by around one day. However, you need to start taking antiviral medicines within two days of getting the flu. These medicines can be taken as tablets or as an inhaler (similar to the ones used for asthma).
Availability and use of different treatments may vary from country to country. Ask a pharmacist or doctor for advice on your treatment options.
There are a number of supplements and complementary medicines that are popular for treating colds. These include vitamin C, menthol, zinc, garlic and Echinacea. There is not enough evidence to suggest that taking these or Chinese herbal medicines are likely to be effective at treating flu.
Menthol can help to ease a blocked nose because it has a cooling sensation. It can also help to relieve the symptoms of a sore throat and cough because it contains a local anaesthetic which numbs the area.
Complementary medicines can interact with other medicines, so you should always tell your doctor or pharmacist about all of the medicines you’re taking.