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How to Treat the Flu

If you have flu symptoms -- fever, chills, aches, malaise, and perhaps vomiting -- doctors say it’s important to rest, try to eat nourishing food, and drink more fluids than you ordinarily do. Fever can be dehydrating, and drinking more helps you replace what is lost. Water is fine, though soup can be a great option, especially if you don’t have much of an appetite. 

If you don’t feel much like moving around, it’s fine to stay in bed. Get up when you feel you can. You should not exercise if you have chest congestion, a hacking cough, body aches, or fever. For flu, it’s best to give your body a rest.

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Over-the-Counter Medicine

Over-the-counter fever reducers, antihistamines, decongestants, and cough medicines help you feel better, but these products won’t help you recover any faster.

Read labels carefully before buying. Some products may cause potentially troubling side effects. For example, some antihistamines can make you drowsy. That’s why they’re usually only in nighttime cold medicines. And since decongestants can increase blood pressure, they can be a poor choice for people with heart disease or high blood pressure. Decongestants may also make some people feel jittery or nervous or result in insomnia. Taking them with food may help.

Some doctors believe that fever, unpleasant as it may be, helps deactivate the viruses that cause influenza. Does that mean that taking medicine to bring down your fever will slow your recovery? With a mild fever (less than 100 degrees), maybe a little.  But if you feel very uncomfortable you may want to take fever reducers anyway. And because fever stresses the heart and lungs, fever reducers may be appropriate for older people and those with heart or lung disease. If your fever continues to rise or doesn’t resolve after two or three days, call your doctor to see if you need to go in.  

For children, when you should call the doctor depends on their age.

  • For less than 3 months old, call the doctor for any fever over 100.4 degrees
  •  3 to 6 months, call for any fever of 101 degrees
  • 6 months to 2 years, call if fever reaches 103 degrees

And no matter your child’s age, you should call if your child is not acting normally, has a fever that lasts more than three days, or has a fever that continues to rise.

For body aches, doctors generally recommend OTC acetaminophen, ibuprofen  or naproxen sodium. Children should not take aspirin when they have a fever because it’s been associated with Reye’s syndrome, a potentially fatal illness that affects children and teens. To avoid stomach upset when taking ibuprofen, take it with food.

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