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Flu - treatment

Flu can be severe and may cause serious illness and death. Those most at risk are the very young and elderly.

But if you are generally fit and healthy, you can manage your symptoms at home. You can usually treat the flu without seeing your GP and should begin to feel better in about a week.

Things you can do to get better quicker:

  • Stay indoors.
  • Rest and sleep.
  • Keep warm.
  • Take paracetamol or ibuprofen to lower your temperature and treat aches and pains.
  • Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration. Your pee should be light yellow or clear.
  • Don't smoke

You can start your normal activities again when you feel well enough.

Flu - how it develops and how to treat it

Flu symptoms can come on suddenly. But to treat them you need your bed, not an antibiotic. Symptoms usually progress in both adults and children over a week. 

Here is how you can treat them at each stage.

First 2 days

Symptoms like a sore throat, fever and muscle ache develop quickly. You or your child will feel very unwell.

Usually, you do not need to contact your GP as most flu can be treated at home.

Drink plenty of liquids to replace those lost from sweating. Get lots of rest and eat healthily.

If you are at risk of the complications of flu, you should contact your GP as you may need special anti-viral medicines. These work best if started within 48 hours of flu symptoms.

Related topic

Complications of flu

Days 3 to 5

Your symptoms are now at their peak. You or your child will feel at your worst.

Continue to drink plenty of liquids to replace those lost from sweating and runny noses.

Make sure you are still getting lots of rest and eating healthily.

Days 5 to 8 

You should start to feel much better although a cough and general tiredness may last for 2 to 3 weeks.

Continue to drink plenty of liquids and eat healthily. You can return to normal activities when you feel better.

Ask your pharmacist

Your pharmacist can advise you on over-the-counter medicines that will help. 

You may not be well enough to go to the pharmacy. If possible, ask someone to go for you

Be careful not to use any flu remedies if you're taking paracetamol and ibuprofen tablets. This is because they may also contain paracetamol and it's easy to take more than the recommended dose.

Speak to a pharmacist before giving medicines to children.

When to go to your GP

Usually, you do not need to see your GP if you have flu.

But you should contact your GP if:

  • you're worried about your baby's or child's symptoms
  • you're 65 or over
  • you're pregnant
  • you have a long-term medical condition – for example, a heart, lung, kidney or neurological disease
  • have a weak immune system – for example, if you have diabetes or you're having chemotherapy
  • your symptoms don't improve after 7 days

You may need special anti-viral medicines. These work best if started within 48 hours of flu symptoms.

If you are worried or concerned about the flu, you should talk to your GP or pharmacist.

Antibiotics

Doctors don't recommend antibiotics for flu because they won't relieve your symptoms or speed up your recovery.

Flu is a virus and antibiotics cannot treat viruses. Antibiotics are only needed if you develop a complication like bacterial pneumonia.

How to prevent flu

The flu vaccine reduces the risk of catching flu and spreading it to others.

It's best to get the vaccine in early October- the start of the flu season.

You should get the flu vaccine every year to lower your risk of getting the flu virus. This is because the type of types of flu viruses that are circulating every year are different.

Related topic

Flu - vaccination

How to avoid spreading the flu

Flu is very infectious and easily spread to other people. You're more likely to give it to other people in the first 5 to 6 days of getting flu.

Flu is spread by germs from coughs and sneezes. They can live on hands and surfaces for 24 hours.

To reduce the risk of spreading flu:

  • wash your hands often with warm water and soap
  • use tissues to trap germs when you cough or sneeze
  • bin used tissues as quickly as possible
  • try to avoid all unnecessary contact with others
  • avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with your hands as this helps spreads the flu virus
  • clean surfaces and items inside the house regularly

Related topic

Hand hygiene

In an emergency

Call 999 or go to your nearest emergency department (ED) if you:

  • develop sudden chest pain
  • have difficulty breathing
  • start coughing up blood

page last reviewed: 12/06/2019
next review due: 12/06/2022