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Treating the Flu

If your doctor has told you that you have the flu, you should stay home and follow your doctor’s advice. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about over-the-counter and prescription medicines.  These may relieve your flu symptoms and help you feel better faster.

You can treat flu symptoms with and without medicines.  Over-the-counter medicines may relieve some flu symptoms but will not make you less contagious.

Your doctor may prescribe antiviral medications to make your illness milder and prevent serious problems from the flu.  If your flu has caused a bacterial infection, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics


Are there ways to treat the flu or its symptoms without medicine?

You can treat flu symptoms without medicine by:

  • Getting plenty of rest
  • Drinking clear fluids to keep from becoming dehydrated:

  • Placing a cool, damp washcloth on your forehead, arms, and legs to reduce discomfort that goes along with a fever
  • Putting a humidifier in your room to make breathing easier
  • Gargling warm salt water to soothe a sore throat
  • Covering up with a warm blanket to calm chills


How can I treat congestion?

Decongestants can relieve discomfort from:

  • stuffy noses
  • sinuses
  • ears,
  • chests.

Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about which kind of decongestant is right for you.


How can I treat coughing and sore throat?

To relieve coughing and sore throat, try:

  • cough medicine
  • cough drops
  • throat lozenges.

These can bring relief for a short time.  Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about which kind is right for you.


How can I reduce fevers and discomfort?

Fevers and aches can be treated with a pain reliever such as:

If you have kidney disease or stomach problems, check with your doctor before taking any NSAIDS.


Is it safe to take flu medications with other over-the-counter or prescription medicines?

Many over-the-counter medicines contain the same active ingredients. If you take several medicines with the same active ingredient you might be taking more than the recommended dose. This can cause serious health problems. Read all labels carefully.

If you are taking over-the-counter or prescription medicines not related to the flu, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about which cold and flu medicines are safe for you.


What are antiviral medicines and how can they help?

Antiviral medicines are prescription pills, liquids, or inhalers used to prevent or treat flu viruses. They are approved for adults and children one year and older.

There are four antiviral drugs approved for treating the flu in the United States:

If you get the flu, antiviral medicines can make your illness milder and make you feel better faster. They may also prevent serious problems from the flu. Antiviral medicines work best when started within the first two days of getting sick.

If you are exposed to the flu, antiviral medicine can keep you from becoming sick.  Talk to your doctor if you have been or may be near a person with the flu.


Do I need antibiotics?

Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections. They are not effective against viral infections like the flu.

Some people have bacterial infections along with or caused by the flu and will need to take antibiotics. Severe or prolonged illness or illness that seems to get better but then gets worse may be a sign of bacterial infection.

Contact your doctor if you think you need antibiotics.


Related Information

Caring for Someone with the Flu
Recognizing Flu Symptoms


This article is based on information available at ( accessed November 2012.

For more information:

Go to the Cold and Flu health topic.