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How to Treat the Flu

Have you caught the flu (influenza)? Knowing what to do may help you feel better sooner and stop others from becoming sick.

At Banner Health, we are committed to providing you with the best care. Here is what you need to know about managing the flu.

At-home and self-care

If you have flu symptoms , quick action is important so you can feel better as soon as possible.

Most flu cases can be treated at home with simple steps, including:

  • Rest: Give your body the time it needs to heal. Take naps and get plenty of sleep to help your immune system fight the flu virus.
  • Drink plenty of fluids: Sip on water, herbal teas and clear broths or soups to stay hydrated. Fluids also help with fever and sweating.
  • Relieve pain and fever: Over-the-counter (OTC) medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil/Motrin) can help lower fever and ease body aches and headaches. Follow the dose directions on the label or use as prescribed by your health care provider.
    • Avoid using aspirin when you have the flu as it has been linked to Reye’s syndrome, a rare but serious condition that causes swelling in the liver and brain.
  • Soothe your throat and nose: Gargle with warm salt water to ease a sore throat. Carefully inhale steam from a bowl of hot water or a warm shower to help with a stuffy nose. Learn how you can safely use OTC saline nasal sprays or rinses to help with nasal congestion.
  • Stay away from others: Stay home until you are fever-free for 24 hours to avoid spreading the virus. Wash your hands frequently and cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.
  • Watch for signs of a serious illness: Contact your health care provider if your symptoms get worse, you have signs of dehydration or have difficulty managing the flu at home.

OTC cold and flu medications

Cold and flu medications can help your symptoms, but it is important to use them carefully and follow recommended dosages. If you have questions, ask your health care provider or a pharmacist.

Some options include:

  • Pain and fever medicines: OTC medicines such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin/Aleve) can help you feel more comfortable.
  • Decongestants: These can help clear up a stuffy nose.
  • Antihistamines: These can help stop sneezing and a runny nose.
  • Cough drops and suppressants: To help you cough less and soothe your throat.

If you have high blood pressure

People with hypertension (high blood pressure) must be careful when treating the flu with cold and flu medications. Some medicines (such as decongestants) can increase your blood pressure and stop your blood pressure treatment from working the right way.

Here are some recommendations:

  • Talk to your provider: They can recommend safe flu medicines and dosages for you.
  • Choose safe options: Choose OTC medicines labeled “hypertension-friendly” or “safe for high blood pressure.” You can also ask your pharmacist for recommendations.
  • Be careful with salt: Some medicines – especially liquids – may contain high sodium levels which can raise your blood pressure. Canned broths and soups may also have high sodium. When in doubt, ask your provider or pharmacist.
  • Check your blood pressure: Keep a close eye on your blood pressure readings. Report any changes to your provider.

Learn more about how to choose the best cold or flu medication.

Antiviral medications

Usually, you’ll need nothing more than self-care at home to treat flu symptoms.

However, antiviral medications may be prescribed in some cases, especially if you have a severe infection or are in a high-risk group. Those at higher risk of complications include children under 5 years old, adults over 65, pregnant people and people with chronic medical conditions and/or weakened immune systems.

Antiviral medications work by slowing the flu virus’s ability to multiply, allowing you to get better more quickly. These prescription drugs include oseltamivir (Tamiflu), zanamivir (Relenza), peramivir (Rapivab) or baloxavir (Xofluza).

If your provider prescribes antiviral medications, you should start taking them within 48 hours (about two days) of getting sick and carefully follow your provider’s instructions.

Learn more about antiviral medications for the flu.

Flu recovery time

Mild cases of the flu usually last between 7 to 14 days (about two weeks). You may have a cough that lingers for a few weeks after other symptoms disappear.

The flu is contagious before you show symptoms (up to 24 hours before symptoms begin) and up to a week after symptoms start. Wait until you are fever-free for at least 24 hours before returning to school, work or other public places.

It’s not too late to get vaccinated

Even if you have the flu, there are many good reasons to get a flu shot once you are better. That’s because several strains of the flu circulate each season.

The flu shot boosts your defense against different strains. This can help limit how long you are sick if you catch the flu again.

Learn more about flu vaccination and common myths and facts about flu shots.

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