Flu is a very common illness. While many people recover from the flu, it can sometimes become severe, causing life-threatening complications, like pneumonia. It’s estimated that between 6000-11,000, South Africans die from the flu each year, half of which are elderly people. Flu circulation is seasonal so getting the flu vaccine is an excellent way to protect yourself from the virus. However, if you do develop the flu, there are over-the-counter medications you can get to treat your symptoms. Discover more as Bloom Financial Services discusses common over-the-counter remedies for the flu.
What is the flu?
Influenza is a contagious viral infection that affects your respiratory system, including the nose, throat and lungs. It is easily transmitted from person to person through respiratory droplets when the infected person coughs or sneezes. Symptoms of the flu range from mild to severe and include some of the following:
- Fever (higher than 38℃)
- Congestion or a runny nose
- Dry dough
- Sore throat
- Body aches
- Muscle and joint pain
The symptoms develop within one to four days following exposure to the virus and a person can be ill for up to two weeks.
In some cases, flu can lead to serious health complications, like pneumonia or respiratory failure. It’s particularly life-threatening for older adults, children and those with a weakened immune system. The flu is particularly virulent during winter flu season, so getting a flu shot is recommended to protect yourself from this virus.
You may also be interested in: How to prevent getting a cold or flu this winter
What is over-the-counter medication?
Over-the-counter medication, also known as OTC, refers to drugs that can be purchased from a pharmacy, grocery store or retail outlet without a prescription from a doctor, and are used to treat ailments like colds, flu, allergies, general pain or digestive problems. OTC is safe to take when used as directed. Make sure you read the label and follow the dosage instructions. If you’re unsure speak to the pharmacist or a healthcare provider as some over-the-counter medications can cause side effects.
Different types of over-the-counter medication for the flu
There are several categories of over-the-counter remedies for the flu that one can get to help with the treatment of influenza. These are some of the most common types:
- Fever-reducing over-the-counter remedies for the flu. This type of medication is used to lower your temperature if you have a fever. Some of the more common fever-reducing medications include:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen
- Acetaminophen (paracetamol)
- Pain relievers. These can be used to reduce body aches and joint pain. These can be found in tablet, liquid or topical ointment. Medications include:
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), like Advil
- Cough suppressants. This helps reduce the frequency and intensity of coughing when no mucous or phlegm is being produced. These are available as syrups, tablets or lozenges. Some of the medications include:
- Dextromethorphan will suppress the cough reflect. It’s usually found as syrup. It should be used with caution if you suffer from asthma, kidney disease, liver disease or other respiratory problems.
- Diphenhydramine is an antihistamine medication that is used as a cough suppressant and to induce sleep. Diphenhydramine causes extreme drowsiness and even dizziness. It should be used with caution. You are advised not to operate heavy equipment or drive a vehicle if you’ve taken this medication. Avoid taking it in conjunction with alcohol. In addition, it’s not advisable to take it if one is pregnant. Neither should this medication be given to children under the age of 12.
- Camphor and menthol. These are topical cough suppressants that are applied directly to the chest and throat to relieve coughing. They provide a cooling sensation. Some of the common brands are Vick VapoRub and Halls cough drops.
- Decongestants. These relieve nasal congestion by reducing swelling in the nasal passages. It works by narrowing the blood vessels in the nasal passage. This reduces the blood flow and swelling in the nasal tissues, allowing air to flow through the passages. Some common decongestants include:
- Phenylephrine is used to treat nasal discomfort as well as congestion of the Eustachian Tubes, which drain fluid from the middle ear. Phenylephrine should be used with caution by people who have a heart condition, diabetes, or thyroid disorder. The medication should not be taken for more than three consecutive days without consulting a healthcare worker and should not be administered to children under the age of 2.
- Oxymetazoline is usually retailed as a nasal spray. It provides short-term relief for nasal congestion for the flu, colds, respiratory allergies and sinus infections. The medication should not be taken for more than three consecutive days without consulting a healthcare worker and should not be administered to children under the age of 6.
- Antihistamines. This is used to help relieve a runny nose, itchy eyes and sneezing. An antihistamine is often used in conjunction with other medications and is used to block the effects of histamine, which is a chemical released by the body in response to an allergic reaction. The antihistamine binds to the histamine receptors in the body and prevents histamine from attaching to these receptors. This helps reduce or prevent the symptoms of an allergic reaction.
A common antihistamine is:
- Diphenhydramine (Benadryl). This is used predominantly as a cough suppressant. It causes drowsiness and should not be taken by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Neither should the medicine be administered to children younger than 12.
Side effects and risks of over-the-counter medication for the flu
Always use over-the-counter remedies for the flu as directed and speak to a pharmacist or healthcare provider before taking any new medication, especially if you have any underlying health conditions or are taking other medications. Decongestants can, for instance, have side effects such as increased heart rate, high blood pressure, and nervousness, so it’s important to follow the recommended dosage. Some of the possible side effects of over-the-counter remedies for the flu include:
- Pain relievers can cause liver and kidney damage if taken in large amounts over a consistent period.
- Fever reducers can increase a child’s risk of developing a condition called Reye’s Syndrome. The medication can also contribute to an upset stomach.
- Cough suppressants can cause dizziness, drowsiness or nausea.
- Decongestants can contribute to an increased heart rate, high blood pressure and anxiety. People with certain health conditions, like heart disease, hypertension, or glaucoma, should avoid taking decongestants.
- Antihistamines. This type of medication can cause drowsiness, acid reflux and dizziness. It should be avoided by people with health conditions, like emphysema, stomach ulcers and asthma.
Tips for choosing the right over-the-counter remedies for the flu
Getting the right kind of over-the-counter (OTC) medication for influenza can help manage your symptoms, relieve discomfort and promote recovery. Here are some tips to help when it comes to choosing the right medication:
- Read the labels. Make sure the medication you’re taking is suitable for your symptoms and your medical history. Sticks to the recommended dosage and be aware of any warnings or precautions.
- Understand your symptoms. Take note of your symptoms when choosing over-the-counter remedies for the flu. If you don’t have a fever, it’s not recommended that you take any fever-reducing medication, for instance.
- Take into account your medical history. Some over-the-counter medications can react with chronic medication or can cause adverse side effects for people with certain types of health conditions.
- Sticks to the dosage. Taking too much or taking medication for too long, can have dangerous side effects. Follow the dosing instructions as directed in the labels or as directed by a healthcare worker.
- Take note of any side effects. Some OTC medications can cause side effects. If this does happen, stop taking the medication.
Seek help from a professional. If you’re unsure about the correct use of over-the-counter medication or have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask a professional. Your local pharmacist or a healthcare worker can assist. We advise that you use the HelloDoctor support service as opposed to an online resource that isn’t credible.
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