How to Treat the Flu
Over-the-Counter Medicine continued...
OTC cough medicines are not recommended for children under the age of 4 as there are no proven benefit in kids. Homemade cough remedies containing honey have been shown to help. After age 1 year only, you can use ½ to 1 teaspoon of honey as needed. It can thin the bronchial secretions and loosen the cough.
Multi-symptom over-the counter flu medicines, which contain more than one medication, can help relieve several symptoms. However, if you have only one or two symptoms, you may not need a medication that combines an antihistamine, cough suppressant, decongestant, fever reducer, and pain reliever. Try to target your medicine choice to your symptoms. This can also help avoid unpleasant side effects.
There are two prescription antiviral medications that are recommended by the CDC this season which may prevent the flu and ease the severity of flu symptoms. Studies show that these medications can shorten the course of illness if taken within the first 48 hours of having symptoms. Oseltamivir (Tamiflu) is an oral medication, and zanamivir (Relenza) is inhaled. Your doctor may be more likely to prescribe one of them if your symptoms are severe or if you fall into certain risk groups. This includes children under age 5; adults age 65 or older; people with asthma, diabetes, and some other chronic medical conditions; women who are pregnant or within 2 weeks of delivery; nursing home residents; American Indians/Alaska Natives; people who are etremely obese; and people with weakened immune systems.
The homeopathic mixture oscillococcinum is very popular in Europe, where it originated, and has gained increasing popularity in the U.S. Studies have shown that oscillococcinum may reduce the duration of the flu and the severity of some symptoms, but there is no evidence that it prevents the flu.
Garlic contains allicin, a compound that has been shown to have antiviral properties. One small study suggests it might help prevent colds, although evidence is mixed. Fresh, uncooked garlic is the most potent form. If you would rather use a supplement, look for one that contains 1.3% allicin. Garlic supplements can raise the risk of bleeding, so people taking blood thinners should ask their doctor before taking them.
Although echinacea has been touted to prevent or fight a cold, recent studies have not shown that it is beneficial for a cold or the flu. Studies have been done to examine whether echinacea can prevent, reduce the severity, and decrease the duration of illness. Unfortunately, none of these studies have shown a positive benefit. One criticism of the studies is that there are differing opinions regarding the best echinacea species, plant part, active componet, and the dose.
If you want to try echinacea supplements, pick a brand that uses the stems, leaves, and flowers of the Echinacea purpurea plant rather than the root. Don't take echinacea for more than eight weeks -- research suggests that using it for a long period of time may damage the immune system. People who are allergic to ragweed should not take echinacea.