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Flu Medication: What Works?

What flu medications do you need to help you through?

Antiviral Flu Medications on the Market continued...

The problem here? By the time most healthy adults realize they’re sick and get to a doctor to get a prescription, more than 48 hours have passed since the flu symptoms began. “If more than 48 hours have gone by when the patient shows up at the doctor’s office or the emergency room, flu medications’ effectiveness diminishes so much that most doctors won’t initiate treatment, unless the patient has such a high risk of complications that you want to try anything,” says Schaffner.

For that reason, only a small number of people who get the flu are actually treated with antiviral flu medications. Children get antiviral flu medication more than adults, says Schaffner, because parents tend to be more alert to a child’s signs of illness than adults are to their own.

Getting Double Protection From the Flu

In some cases, Schaffner says, doctors working with people who are at particularly high risk for complications from the flu, such as the elderly, people with heart or lung disease, or those with compromised immune systems, will write a prescription for antiviral medication before the person gets sick, just in case. This isn’t a strategy to be used with a robust, healthy 45-year-old, but for someone frail and particularly vulnerable.

“Two lines of protection are better than one. So I’ll make sure they’re vaccinated, but I’ll also give them an advance prescription for an antiviral,” he says. “If someone in their family or someone they see a lot becomes ill, or if they see lots of headlines that the flu is rampant in their community, they should fill the prescription and call me. That’s the way to get out ahead of the 48-hour rule.” 

Sometimes, of course, both medications and vaccines aren’t enough to prevent the flu. In that case, what medicines are available to treat your symptoms? It’s a pretty simple formula, according to Schaffner. Here are three things you should do:

  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Relieve some of your fever and aches with acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin).

“The flu is going to have its way with you,” he says. “Other things, like antihistamines and the like, really have very little effect on the flu. So recognize you’re ill, stay home, and take care of yourself, and try not to spread it to others.”

Reviewed on October 18, 2007

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