Influenza - Treatment

Influenza cannot be cured. The usual course of action is to allow the body to heal itself. Various treatments are available to help relieve symptoms, however. For example, a person should get plenty of bed rest and drink lots of fluids. A steam vaporizer can make breathing easier. Painkillers help relieve the aches and pains of the flu. Children should not be given aspirin, however. Aspirin has been shown to cause a rare condition known as Reye's syndrome (see Reye's syndrome entry), which can be fatal.

Flu patients often do not feel hungry. However, they should be encouraged to eat as normally as possible. Patients should not try to return to normal activities too soon. Overactivity can cause a return of the infection or secondary infections.


Patients sometimes ask their doctor for antibiotics to cure the flu. But antibiotics have no effect on the flu virus. They can be used, however, to treat secondary infections.

There are many over-the-counter (nonprescription) medications for the treatment of flu symptoms. Medications that include alcohol should be avoided, however. Alcohol has a tendency to reduce the amount of water in a person's body. The best medicine is often an analgesic (painkiller), such as acetaminophen (pronounced uh-see-tuh-MIN-uh-fuhn, trade name Tylenol) or naproxen (pronounced nuh-PROKS-suhn, trade name Aleve).

Two antiviral drugs are available for the treatment of influenza in the United States. They are recommended for people with weak immune systems or people who are allergic to the flu vaccine. These two drugs are amantadine hydrochloride (pronounced uh-MANT-uh-deen HIE-druh-KLOR-ide, trade names Symmetrel, Symadine, Amantadine-hydrochloride) and rimantadine hydrochloride (pronounced ruh-MAN-tuh-deen HIE-druh-KLOR-ide, trade name Flumandine). Both drugs are effective against type A viruses only. These should be used with care because they both have serious side effects.

Alternative Treatment

A number of alternative treatments have been recommended for the treatment of influenza. In most cases, there is little scientific evidence for the success of these treatments.

A pharmacy worker in Russia wears a respiratory mask while serving customers to protect herself from a flu epidemic in 1999. (Reproduced by permission of AP/Wide World Photos)
A pharmacy worker in Russia wears a respiratory mask while serving customers to protect herself from a flu epidemic in 1999. (Reproduced by permission of
AP/Wide World Photos
  • Acupuncture and acupressure. Practitioners believe that these two techniques can stimulate natural resistance, relieve nasal congestion and headaches, reduce fever, and soothe coughs. Acupuncture is a Chinese therapy that uses fine needles to pierce the body; acupressure involves applying pressure to certain points in the body.
  • Aromatherapy. Aromatherapists recommend gargling daily with one drop each of tea tree oil and lemon in a glass of warm water. Two drops of tea tree oil in a hot bath may help ease some symptoms. A few drops of the oils of eucalyptus (pronounced yoo-kuh-LIP-tus) or peppermint can be added to a steam vaporizer. They may help clear chest and nasal congestion.
  • Herbal remedies. Echinacea (pronounced ek-i-NAY-see-uh) has been recommended to improve a person's immune system. Certain herbs, such as goldenseal and garlic, are thought to be able to kill viruses. A number of herbs can be used to treat the symptoms of influenza. For example, boneset may counteract aches and fever, and yarrow or elder flower may combat chills.

  • Homeopathy. Homeopathic practitioners recommend a variety of herbs to treat the symptoms of the flu. These include Gelsemium (pronounced jel-SEE-mee-uhm) for the treatment of chills, headache, and nasal congestion; Bryonia (pronounced brie-OH-nee-uh) for muscle aches, headaches, and dry cough; and poison ivy for restlessness, chills, hoarseness, and achy joints.
  • Hydrotherapy. Taking a hot bath may help a person recover from the flu more quickly: The higher a person's body temperature, the more quickly the virus is likely to die. Hydrotherapists recommend that a person drink a cup of yarrow or elder flower tea while taking a bath: These herbs cause a person to sweat.
  • Vitamins. Some people believe that large doses of vitamin C can help prevent the flu. They suggest increasing the amount of vitamin C once a flu infection has started.

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic:

The Content is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of Content found on the Website.