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Flu Survival Kit: A Self-Care Kit for Your Home

Keep these medicines and remedies on hand in case the flu bug bites.

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What to Get: Two types of cough syrups are useful for surviving the flu: an expectorant (which contains the ingredient guaifenesin) and a suppressant (which contain the ingredient dextromethorphan).

What They Do, How to Use Them: Expectorant cough remedies should be used when you have chest congestion and are trying to cough it out, says Jonathan Arroyo, PharmD, the pharmacy manager at Texas Road Pharmacy in Manalapan, N.J., and a member of the American Pharmacists Association. When you are taking these cough syrups, be sure to drink eight glasses or more of water and other fluids a day, he says. The fluids help clear congestion.

Suppressant cough remedies are best to use when the cough is dry and you have no mucus, Arroyo says. (But if you are trying to sleep, and the cough prevents you from rest, Arroyo sometimes suggests  taking a suppressant cough syrup before bed.)

Menthol cough drops can help soothe the throat soreness. They can be used with expectorants, Arroyo says.

Nasal Sprays for Stuffy Noses

What to Get: Saline nasal sprays (nonmedicated) and oxymetazoline (medicated) nasal sprays such as Afrin or NeoSnyephrine.

What They Do, How to Use Them: Saline nasal sprays can help clear out the nose and the stuffiness that can accompany flu. "It might help you breathe better," Arroyo says.

Nasal saline sprays can be used even a couple times an hour, says Roberts, the family physician.

Medicated nasal sprays can be used by healthy adults, but Roberts advises no more than three days of use. Longer use is associated with "rebound congestion."

Decongestants for Flu Symptoms

What to Get: Options include decongestants in pill or oral forms such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed, Contac) and phenylephrine (such as Sudafed). Some states require you to talk to a pharmacist before buying over-the-counter medications with pseudoephedrine, as the drug is used in illegal production of methamphetamine.

What They Do, How to Use Them: Decongestants help in your surviving-the-flu efforts by narrowing blood vessels in the nose lining, reducing blood flow to the area and allowing swollen tissue to shrink and air to flow more easily.

Thermometer to Check for Fever From the Flu

What to Get: Options include a standard mercury thermometer, a digital oral or ear thermometer, or, for infants, a rectal thermometer.

What to Know, How to Use Them: Taking your temperature can help you keep tabs on your fever.  "With flu, 100.4 degrees or higher is generally regarded as a fever," Roberts says. For better accuracy, don't take your temperature right after drinking hot or cold liquids, he says.

"The oral digital models are better generally than the ear models," Roberts says. In one study, researchers compared ear and rectal thermometers in children and found that ear thermometers failed to diagnose fever in three or four of every 10 children with a fever. Another study found that 5% to 31% of children with fever were misdiagnosed as not having a fever when ear thermometers were used.

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