Unfortunately, like most upper respiratory tract infections, the flu is not easy to treat.
What are Flu Symptoms?
While a cold and the flu can have similar symptoms, those symptoms are generally more intense and come on more quickly when you have the flu.
These flu symptoms can include the sudden onset of:
- fever and chills
- dry cough
- chest discomfort
- runny nose or stuffy nose
- sore throat
- body aches
- feelings of fatigue
And more rarely, vomiting and diarrhea.
In contrast, cold symptoms come on more gradually and are more likely to include sneezing, stuffy nose, sore throat, and mild to moderate coughing. A cold is also less likely to include a headache, fatigue, chills, or aches. And while either might have fever, it will be more low grade with a cold.
As with other infections, flu symptoms can be very variable. While some people might have a high fever, chills, body aches, constant coughing, and can hardly get out of bed, others might have a low grade fever and much milder symptoms.
That variability also applies to how long the flu symptoms might last. Some people are sick for a good 7 to 10 days, while others start to feel better in just a few days.
Treating Flu Symptoms
Although there aren’t many good treatments for the flu, that variability in flu symptoms makes it hard to even know if any you try really work.
For kids older than 4 to 6 years and adults, you could treat symptoms as necessary, including the use of decongestants and cough suppressants.
And of course, almost everyone might benefit from pain and fever relievers, drinking extra fluids, and rest, etc.
Treating the Flu
In addition to symptomatic flu treatments, there are also antiviral drugs that can actually help treat your flu infection.
These flu medications include oseltamivir (Tamiflu), zanmivir (Relenza), and peramivir (Rapivab). Of these, oral Tamiflu is the most commonly used. It can also be used to prevent the flu if taken before or soon after you are exposed to someone with the flu.
“If liquid Tamiflu is not available and you have capsules that give the right dose (30 mg, 45 mg or 75 mg), you may pull open the Tamiflu capsules and mix the powder with a small amount of sweetened liquid such as regular or sugar-free chocolate syrup. You don’t have to use chocolate syrup but thick, sweet liquids work best at covering up the taste of the medicine.”
FDA – Tamiflu: Consumer Questions and Answers
Unfortunately, these flu drugs are not like antibiotics you might take for a bacterial infection. You don’t take Tamiflu and begin to feel better in day or two. Instead, if you take it within 48 hours of the start of your flu symptoms, you might “shorten the duration of fever and illness symptoms, and may reduce the risk of complications from influenza.”
At best, you are likely only going to shorten your flu symptoms by less than a day. And considering the possible side effects of these medications and their cost, they are often reserved for high risk patients, including:
- children who are less than 2 years old
- adults who are at least 65 years old or older
- anyone with chronic medical problems, including asthma, diabetes, seizures, muscular dystrophy, morbid obesity, immune system problems, and those receiving long-term aspirin therapy, etc.
- pregnant and postpartum women
- anyone who is hospitalized with the flu
- anyone with severe flu symptoms
That means that most older children and teens who are otherwise healthy, but have the flu, don’t typically need a prescription for Tamiflu. The current recommendations don’t rule out treating these kids though.
“Antiviral treatment also can be considered for any previously healthy, symptomatic outpatient not at high risk with confirmed or suspected influenza on the basis of clinical judgment, if treatment can be initiated within 48 hours of illness onset.”
Antiviral Agents for the Treatment and Chemoprophylaxis of Influenza – Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP)
There is a lot of controversy surrounding the use of Tamiflu and other anti-viral flu medications, with some studies and many experts thinking that they should rarely be used, if ever, stating that they are not as useful as others claim. Others state that while they not perfect, they are all we have, and there is enough evidence to recommend their use.
Treating Hard to Control Flu Symptoms
Instead of learning about treating hard to control flu symptoms, which might require medical attention, it is probably much more important to learn how to recognize these severe flu symptoms that might be hard to control.
Your child’s flu might be getting worse and require quick medical attention if you notice:
- fast or hard breathing
- complaints of chest pain
- that it is hard to wake up your child
- irritability to the point that your child is not consolable
- signs of dehydration because your child won’t drink any fluids
- that your child is complaining of being dizzy or is feeling lightheaded
You might also need to seek medical attention if your child with the flu was getting better, but then worsens again, with the return of a fever and more severe coughing, etc.
What to Know About Treating the Flu and Flu Symptoms
In addition to basic symptomatic care for your child’s flu symptoms, including the fever, cough, and runny nose, etc., Tamiflu can be an option to treat high risk kids with the flu.
And remember that it is recommended that everyone who is at least six months old should get a yearly flu vaccine.
More Information on Treating Hard to Control Flu Symptoms
- CDC – The Flu: What To Do If You Get Sick
- CDC – Influenza Antiviral Medications: Summary for Clinicians
- MMWR – Antiviral Agents for the Treatment and Chemoprophylaxis of Influenza: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP)
- Cochrane Review – Tamiflu & Relenza: how effective are they?
- New evidence, same conclusion: Tamiflu only modestly useful for influenza
- Tamiflu controversy reignited by new study
- FDA – Tamiflu: Consumer Questions and Answers
- CDC – Opening and Mixing Oseltamivir Capsules with Liquids if Child Cannot Swallow Capsules
- CDC Study: Treating Children’s Flu Illness Costly
Last Updated on January 29, 2017 by Vincent Iannelli, MD
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