As far as treating the flu (influenza) is concerned, there are no medicines yet to cure it in the true sense of the word. This is because it is a viral sickness. The flu treatment only manages to give relief from the flu symptoms. It is simple and non-aggressive and helps in quicker recovery with less misery.
However, if the complications set in, the flu treatment becomes more aggressive, the reason being, these complications can be serious and the statistics of flu deaths are frightening
You can be exposed to and infected by both flu virus type A and type B. However, the treatment guidelines are the same for both.
Influenza can affect all age groups but children are more susceptible and fall victims more than adults. That is because their immune system is yet to fully mature. And, it is during the cold dry winter months of the flu season that people are more susceptible.
Symptoms set in about 1 to 4 days after exposure to the flu virus. This incubation period may vary but the average period is two days. Start the treatment medications to relieve your symptoms as soon as you start to experience them.
Antibiotics have no role to play in treating flu. You need to take them only when complications set in with a bacterial infection. Less than 5% of those infected, develop flu complications and they are mostly people who are at a higher flu risk.
Most people get the flu illness, which is mild in intensity. In such cases, you do not need any treatment beyond over-the-counter (OTC) drugs for relief from symptoms.
However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), all flu patients should start taking antiviral drugs within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms — the earlier the better (explained below).
Being a viral illness, the flu is self-limiting and will go away even if you do not take any medicines – the body’s own immune mechanism does the job of fighting off the infection.
But the treatment and medicines will help you to pass the sickness period in lesser misery and for a shorter period. This medication will significantly reduce the risk of complications, hospitalization, relapse, and death.
Flu treatment with OTC drugs
The flu care plan offers essential tips on how to care for yourself at home when you catch this illness. They are simple and easy to follow. Click on the link and read it. The treatment guidelines are incomplete without following those recommendations.
After exposure to the flu virus, the symptoms come on suddenly indicating the start of your miserable days ahead. If you are lucky, you may pass through the illness without any symptoms. Yes, about 33% of infected persons do not have symptoms, but they could still be contagious.
Flu treatment consists of taking care of its symptoms and controlling the virus with medicines. It is essential that you start the treatment as early as possible – that means as soon as you have recognized the symptoms.
Recovery can be fast because most cases are mild and require only over-the-counter medicines to get relief from the symptoms.
Do not give adult over-the-counter medicines to children under four years of age. The reason for this is that children metabolize medicines in an immature way. Use pediatric medicines and the prescribed doses. Always consult your doctor, especially in the case of infants and children.
Treating your headache, body aches, and pain symptoms of flu
Take analgesics such as aspirin and ibuprofen twice or thrice a day. Avoid giving aspirin to children and teenagers under 18 years of age. Studies indicate that it can trigger Reye’s syndrome, a dangerous disease, which can cause death.
According to the American Family Physician,
“The National Reye’s Syndrome Foundation, the U.S. Surgeon General, the FDA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that aspirin and combination products containing aspirin not be taken by anyone younger than 19 years during fever-causing illnesses”
For fever and shivering (chills)
The body temperature in the flu illness can be quite high – 102F or more
Antipyretics such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, Panadol) are advised twice or thrice a day to control the fever. It will also help to get rid of your shivering.
Sometimes you have no fever but chills may be present. Chills are the body’s way to increase body temperature. At such times,
- Take a warm water bath
- Cover yourself with warm clothes
- Take an antihistamine pill, SOS (only when needed). Besides controlling the shivering, antihistamine pills will also get rid of any skin rash you may develop.
For nasal congestion and sinus pressure
Decongestants such as oral Afrin, Dristant, and Sudafed are advised. Decongestant nasal sprays and drops such as Privine are available, but you should use them for a limited period. See your doctor if the nasal condition lasts for more than a week.
For a running nose, watery eyes, sneezing, and sinus pressure
Antihistamines will give relief from these symptoms. Ideally, go in for medicines which contain both antihistamines and decongestants like Benadryl for the relief of nasal congestion and sinus pressure.
Cough expectorants such as Robitussin and Mucinex help the expectoration of mucus if you have a wet cough. Cough suppressants such as Robitussin-DM help your dry hacking cough. Use cough preparations with caution if you are more than 60 years of age or if you have a chronic respiratory disease.
For a sore throat
Avoid cold foods and drinks. They will aggravate a sore throat.
Gargling with warm salt water often relieves the throat pain. Local application of the antiviral/antibacterial solution to the throat will also help to relieve the throat irritation.
Do not gargle for more than a few days as it may mask a strep throat infection, which requires systemic antibiotics.
You can also use lozenges with antiviral/antibacterial and local anesthetic properties such as Boots and TCP lozenges. Do not eat hot food after taking local anesthetic lozenges as it can cause mouth burns.
It is normal to experience fatigue and exhaustion after a bout of illness, such as the flu. This can extend up to two weeks or more.
Try the following measures to combat exhaustion and dehydration:
- Take rest and get your required amount of sleep.
- Have a good nourishing diet of vegetables, fruits, and soups (veg or non-veg)
- Drink plenty of fluids. That includes water and natural juices. Drink coconut water daily.
- Take supplements of vitamins and minerals.
Duration of flu treatment
How long you need to take the flu treatment can vary and this depends on the severity of the illness and its symptoms and the presence of complications if any.
For treating a normal uncomplicated flu, take antivirals for five days, and for prophylactic (preventive) purposes take them for 10 days. Some cases may require longer treatments.
Take the OTC medicines only for the time the symptoms last.
Flu treatment with antiviral drugs
What are antiviral drugs?
Antiviral drugs are a class of medicines that are used to treat viral infections. They can be specific against some viruses or can be broad spectrum and act against a wide range of viruses.
For optimum results, antiviral drugs should be started within 48 hours after the onset of the symptoms.
The decision to start antiviral therapy need not wait for lab investigations to confirm the flu virus infection. That’s how important it is to start antiviral treatment early.
Clinical trials show that the early start of antiviral therapy can:
- Not only help to reduce the severity of the flu symptoms, but also help to reduce the duration of the illness;
- Reduce the risk of hospital admission;
- Decrease the risk of complications such as pneumonia;
- Reduce the risk of death.
Antiviral drugs act directly on the flu virus. They do not destroy the virus but only prevent it from multiplying.
However, they are not a replacement for the annual flu vaccine, which substantially reduces your risk of catching the flu.
Antivirals have relatively no side effects. They can safely be used in treating adults, children, and pregnant women. They are available as oral pills, liquids, and inhalers.
Indications for antiviral therapy
Antiviral drugs should become part of the flu treatment regimen as soon as possible for any patient suspected of having influenza vis-à-vis the patient’s symptoms. This includes any patient who:
- experiences flu-like symptoms
- is hospitalized
- has a severe, complicated, or progressive illness
- is associated with risk factors for flu complications.
There are four antiviral drugs approved in the United States:
- Oseltamivir (Tamiflu)
- Zanamivir (Relenza)
- Amantadine (generic)
- Rimantadine (Flumadine)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the following antivirals for treatment and prevention. In addition, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommended them for use in the United States during the 2015-2016 influenza season
- Oral Oseltamivir (Tamiflu) is approved for the treatment and prevention of flu in one-year-olds and older. It is available over the counter.
- Inhaled Zanamivir (Relenza) is approved for treating children who are seven years old and older and for prevention in five-year-olds and older.
- Intravenous Peramivir (Rapivab) as a single I.V. dose
All these three antiviral drugs act against influenza virus type A and type B and are effective as therapy and for prevention against these viruses. Currently, the circulating viruses have low resistance against these drugs.
Recommended dose and duration of antiviral drugs
According to the CDC, the recommended dose and duration of antiviral drugs for flu with no complications is two doses per day of oral oseltamivir or inhaled zanamivir for 5 days, or one dose of intravenous peramivir for 1 day.
Flu treatment with antibiotics: Indications
Antibiotics have no role in the treatment or prevention of flu because they are effective against bacteria only and have no action against viruses. OTC drugs for symptomatic relief and antivirals are sufficient when the flu runs its normal course.
However, if there is a super added bacterial infection with the flu virus in the upper or lower respiratory tract, antibiotics join the list of flu treatment drugs. For example, complications such as sinusitis, otitis media, and pneumonia require immediate antibiotic therapy. They become necessary even in cases of another accompanying bacterial infection not associated with the flu.