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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

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Home Treatment

If you have influenza, you can expect the illness to go away on its own in about 7 to 10 days. In the meantime, you can take steps to feel better:

  • Get extra rest. Bed rest can help you feel better. It will also help you avoid spreading the virus to others.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to replace those lost from fever. Fluids also ease a scratchy throat and keep nasal mucus thin. Hot tea with lemon, water, fruit juice, and soup are all good choices.
  • If fever is uncomfortable, sponge your body with lukewarm water to reduce fever. Do not use cold water or ice. Lowering the fever will not make your symptoms go away faster, but it may make you more comfortable. You may also take acetaminophen or ibuprofen to lower fever. Follow all instructions on the label. If you give medicine to your baby, follow your doctor’s advice about what amount to give. Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 20 because of the risk of Reye syndrome. For more information about medicine safety, see the topics Over-the-Counter Medicine Precautions and Quick Tips: Giving Over-the-Counter Medicines to Children.
  • To relieve body aches and headache, take acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
  • To help clear a stuffy nose, breathe moist air from a hot shower or from a sink filled with hot water.
  • Try a decongestant or nasal spray if your main symptom is a stuffy nose. Look for a single-ingredient decongestant that contains phenylephrine. If nasal drainage is thick, a decongestant that contains guaifenesin may help keep it thin and draining. Before you use these medicines, check the label. They may not be safe for young children or for people who have certain health problems. Do not use medicated nasal sprays or drops more often than directed, and don't use them for longer than 3 days.
  • Avoid antihistamines. They do not treat flu symptoms and may make nasal drainage thicker.
  • If the skin around your nose and lips becomes sore from repeated rubbing with tissues, apply a bit of petroleum jelly to the area. Using disposable tissues that contain lotion also may help.
  • Use cough drops or plain, hard candy to help ease coughing.
  • If you have a dry, hacking cough, you can try an over-the counter cough medicine with dextromethorphan. Be careful with cough and cold medicines. They may not be safe for young children or for people who have certain health problems, so check the label first. If you do use these medicines, always follow the directions about how much to use based on age and weight.
  • Elevate your head at night with an extra pillow if coughing keeps you awake.
  • Avoid smoking and breathing secondhand smoke. This is good advice any time, but it is especially important when you have a respiratory infection like a cold or the flu.

Call your doctor if:

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  • Your symptoms improve but then seem to get worse again.
  • You develop symptoms of a bacterial infection, such as a new or worse cough that produces yellow, green, rust-colored, or bloody mucus; persistent fever, ear pain, sore throat, sinus pain, or productive cough; or nasal drainage that changes from clear to colored after 7 to 10 days.
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: May 24, 2011
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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