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What are the Different Treatments for Influenza?

By J.M. Densing
Updated May 17, 2024
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Influenza, or the flu, is a highly contagious viral illness that doesn't respond to antibiotics. Treatments for influenza usually consist of home remedies to ease the discomfort of symptoms, along with plenty of rest; the flu usually goes away on its own in seven to 10 days. In some cases, antiviral medication may be used as one of the treatments for influenza to make the duration of the illness shorter and lessen the effect of the symptoms. In rare cases, influenza may require hospitalization for treatment due to complications such as pneumonia.

Most healthy individuals are able to effectively recover from the flu without needing to see a doctor. For these people, treatments for influenza are primarily home based, and symptoms typically resolve in about a week. The purpose of home based treatment is to reduce the discomfort of illness; it doesn't actually shorten the timespan of influenza. Many people believe that reducing the stress of illness by treating the symptoms can allow the body to fight the flu more effectively.

Typical home treatments for influenza are designed to make the patient feel better until the symptoms subside on their own. Patients are advised to reduce fever with over-the-counter (OTC) medicines such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. These medicines can relieve body aches and lower body temperatures as well as reduce swelling in nasal passages, thereby making it easier to breathe. It's also important to get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids to prevent dehydration and soothe irritation in the throat. Congestion can be treated by inhaling warm moist air from a hot shower, humidifier, or container of hot fluid and by taking OTC decongestants; coughs can be eased with OTC cough medicines, cough drops, or hard candy. Patients also need to limit their exposure to cigarette smoke and can sleep in an elevated position for added comfort.

In some cases, particularly with those who are at high risk for developing severe complications from the flu, antiviral medication is recommended. For maximum effectiveness, these treatments for influenza should be started within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. The use of these drugs requires diagnosis of influenza by a doctor because certain antiviral medicines are effective against specific strains of the flu virus. Antiviral medication can shorten the length of the illness by a couple of days, and it also often makes the symptoms and discomfort less severe.

Some people are at higher risk of developing serious complications from influenza including individuals with asthma or other respiratory problems, pregnant women, and those with compromised immune symptoms. Some of these complications, such as pneumonia or encephalitis which is an infection of the brain, can be life threatening. If these complications occur, hospitalization is usually necessary for effective treatment.

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