Treating the Flu
There is no instant cure for the flu. But there are things you can do to help yourself feel better and reduce the risk of passing the flu to others in your home:
- Get plenty of rest.
- Prevent dehydration by drinking lots of liquids like water, fruit juice and thin soup.
- Avoid drinking alcohol.
- Don’t smoke.
- Be careful with medicines. You can buy over-the-counter medicines that treat flu symptoms at the store. They might make you feel better, but they will not cure the flu. Or you can see your healthcare provider to request antiviral medications to help speed recovery.
- Treat a fever
- Ease coughs
- Treat sore throat
- Ease chills, aches and pain
- Treat congestion
- Calm stomach problems
- Create a separate sick room
- Keep the sick room and home clean
- Protect yourself from flu when caring for others who are sick
Sick people with the flu need to drink extra fluids to keep from getting dehydrated. Mild fluid loss can most often be treated at home. Yet, severe dehydration is VERY serious and must be treated in the hospital.
- If your baby has flu, continue to nurse or bottle feed your baby. Babies get all the fluid they need from breastfeeding or formula.
- If the sick person is not eating well, encourage them to drink liquids. Avoid alcohol or drinks with caffeine in them such as colas, tea, and coffee.
- Older adults and people with kidney problems should check with their doctor about safe amounts of liquid to drink when sick.
- Offer clear fluids such as water, broth, or sports drinks.
- Use a squeeze bottle or a straw for people too weak to drink from a cup. Or offer ice chips or frozen ice pops to suck on.
Check for Dehydration
While anyone can become dehydrated, infants, children, and older adults are at greatest risk of getting dehydrated. Also, pregnant women will want to make sure they are getting enough fluids.
- Make sure babies have wet diapers. Check that wet diapers are as frequent and heavy as normal.
- Look for tears when the baby or toddler is crying.
- Check to see how wet the child’s mouth is. The inside of the mouth should be wet. (Wash your hands after you do this.)
- Check to see that children, teens, and adults are making frequent trips to the bathroom to urinate.
- Check the urine color. Clear or light yellow-colored urine means the person is getting enough fluid. Dark yellow urine signals the person is dehydrated.
If you see the following signs of dehydration, call the doctor to ask for advice.
Signs of Dehydration in Infants and Toddlers
- Sunken soft spot on top of your infant’s head
- Diarrhea or vomiting in infants 2 months or younger
- The baby seems much less active or more irritable than normal
- Fewer tears when crying or not making tears
Signs of Dehydration in Children and Adults
- Not making tears
- Less than normal amount of urine. In babies you may see fewer wet diapers or diapers that weigh less than normal
- Skin that is dry and takes long to go back to position when pinched
- Dry mouth or dry eyes
- Fast-beating heart
- Blood in the stool or blood in vomit
- In children, a fever for 12 or more hours and an inability to drink fluids; throwing up or diarrhea
- In children, cranky or irritable mood, hard to wake up, little energy, appear doll weak
- Never give anyone, especially your child or teen, aspirin or products with aspirin in them to treat symptoms of flu. Check all medicine labels to make sure they do not contain aspirin (also called salicylate). Although it mostly affects people age 18 or younger, Reye’s Syndrome can strike anyone who takes aspirin products when they have the flu. Reye’s Syndrome is a rare, serious illness than can affect the blood, liver, and brain of someone who has recently had a flu virus. This illness can cause confusion, seizures, or coma.
- Don’t give cough or cold medicines to children younger than 4 years of age.
- Call the doctor if your child is very small or very large for his or her age so you will be sure to give the right amount of medicine. The dose you give your child depends on the child’s age and weight.
- Store all medicines out of reach of children. Place them in a locked cabinet where children can’t reach them.
- When your child has the flu, buy pain and fever medicines that say “children’s” on the label. Also, look for the words “acetaminophen” or “ibuprofen” on the label.
- Use a special medicine spoon, dropper, or the cap that came with the medicine. Wash the cap, dropper, or spoon with soap and water after each use.
- If your child has trouble swallowing capsules, read Questions and Answers: Opening and Mixing Tamiflu Capsules with Liquids if Child Cannot Swallow Capsules (CDC)
- Remember, antibiotics are for illnesses caused by bacteria. The flu is a viral illness that will not be cured by antibiotics. However, doctors can prescribe other medications called antivirals to treat flu, especially for people who are at high risk of developing complications.
Bringing down a fever will make the person feel better and help them rest. (Note: Any child younger than 3 months who has a fever should see a doctor.)
- Treating a Fever Without Medicine
- Put a cool, damp washcloth on their forehead.
- Wash their arms and body with a cool cloth.
- Give the person a slightly warm bath.
- Treating a High Fever with Medicine
- Look for the ingredients “acetaminophen” or “ibuprofen” on labels.
- These medicines may take 30 to 45 minutes to start working. They may not bring fevers down to normal temperature.
- When a Fever Causes a Seizure
- A seizure makes you have jerky spasms and can also make you pass out. In rare cases, a fever can bring on a seizure, called a “febrile seizure.” Seizures brought on by fever are more common in young children. Call the doctor or get medical help for seizures.
Coughing can help clear out mucous and congestion from your lungs. Yet, dry coughs when there is no mucous can make your airways, throat, or chest sore. Treating a dry cough can stop this sore feeling and also help you get rest.
- Treating a Dry Cough
- Ask the pharmacist about which cough medicines are best to treat a dry cough. But do not give children younger than 4 years of age cough or cold medicines.
- Set up a humidifier. That’s a machine that puts tiny drops of water (moisture) into the air. This extra moisture can make it easier for the sick person to breathe.
- Offer adults a cough drop or hard candy to soothe their throat and lessen the urge to cough.
To ease a sore throat, offer the sick person:
- Acetaminophen or ibuprofen for the pain
- Ice chips or frozen ice pops to numb the throat and get fluids into the body
- Some people find gargling with salt water helps soothe a sore throat.
- Mix 1 cup of warm water with 1 teaspoon of salt.
- Gargle and then spit out.
To ease chills, aches and pain, offer the sick person:
- A light blanket for chills
- Acetaminophen or ibuprofen for aches and pain. Make sure to read the label for the right amount.
The flu can cause the body to make more mucous. The nose, sinuses, ears, and chest can get stuffy. This congestion can cause pain.
To ease congestion, offer the sick person:
- Acetaminophen or ibuprofen for the pain
- Decongestants (Talk to your pharmacist about the kind you should buy. Do not give cough or cold medicine to children younger than 4 years of age.)
- A humidifier. That’s a machine that puts tiny drops of water (moisture) into the air. This extra moisture can make it easier for the sick person to breathe.
- A warm washcloth on the face to ease sinus pain
Occasionally, people with the flu — especially children — may have stomach pain. They may even throw up or have loose stools (diarrhea). If your loved one has severe stomach pain, call the doctor.
To ease stomach pain, offer the sick person:
- Plain foods that are easy on the stomach
- Clear liquids to drink
- Medicines to help adults treat loose stools
Keeping the person with flu in a separate sick room can help keep others in the family from getting the flu.
- Try to give the sick person their own room. If there is more than one sick person, they can share the sick room if needed.
- If you have more than one bathroom, have sick people use one bathroom and well people use the other one.
- Give each sick person their own drinking glass, washcloth, and towel.
- If possible, choose one caregiver to take care of sick family members. If you are pregnant or have chronic health problems that put you at risk of complications from flu, ask someone else to serve as caregiver if at all possible.
- Limit visitors to the sick room to the parent/caregiver. If visitors must enter, they should stay at least 6 feet away from the sick person.
- Ask the sick person to cover their nose and mouth with a tissue when they cough and sneeze. Ask them to throw used tissues in the trash.
- Keep the air in the sick room clean. Open a window, if possible, or use a fan to keep fresh air flowing.
Have these Items in the Sick Room:
- Trash can with lid and lined with a plastic trash bag
- Alcohol-based hand rub
- Cooler or pitcher with ice and drinks
- Cup with straw or squeeze bottle to help with drinking
- Humidifier (A machine that puts tiny drops of water into the air. This extra moisture can make it easier for the sick person to breathe.)
- Facemasks (Sick people should wear a facemask if available when they leave the sick room or are around other people.)
- Cleaning hard surfaces
- Clean hard surfaces that may have flu germs on them. These may include doorknobs, bedside tables, bathroom sinks, toilets, counters, phones, and toys.
- Clean these hard surfaces by using water and dish soap. Or use common household cleaners that kill germs.
- Cleaning bed linens and laundry
- Wash bed sheets and towels with normal laundry soap and tumble dry on a hot dryer setting. Hold all dirty laundry away from your face and body. Wash your hands right after touching dirty laundry.
- It’s OK to wash the sick person’s bedding or clothes with other people’s laundry.
- Cleaning dishes
- Wash the sick person’s dishes with normal dish soap or place in the dishwasher.
- When holding sick children, place their chin on your shoulder so they will not cough in your face.
- As much as possible, avoid being in very close face to face contact with the sick person.
- Make sure to wash your hands often, especially after touching the sick person or handling their tissues or laundry.
- Wash your hands for as long as it takes you to sing the “Happy Birthday” song two times or count slowly to 20. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.