Treatment of flu aims to either allow the body to fight the virus itself, or to aid the body in fighting the virus. Because the flu is caused by viruses, antibiotics are ineffective. However, your doctor may prescribe antiviral medications (e.g. oseltamivir, zanamivir, etc.) that can interfere with the flu virus's ability to replicate itself. These may reduce symptoms by a few days if taken early.
Antiviral medications and flu vaccination
Prescription antiviral medications are effective only against the flu viruses, and can prevent someone from catching the flu (which is relevant if a family member or other close person has it), or can reduce the severity and duration of the symptoms. Both age and the health of a person determines which antiviral drug will be used. When used for preventative measures, flu vaccines are effective 70 to 90% of the time, although this is not a reason to not get the flu vaccination (unless a person's doctor determines that a flu vaccine is not appropriate). Antiviral drugs approved for use in the US include:
A flu vaccination taken each year prevents or reduces the symptoms of the three main flu strands. By far, it is the best choice for people at high risk of developing the flu or flu complications, unless a person has allergies or other medical conditions that prevent a person to not take the yearly flu vaccination. Flu vaccinations may be taken through an injection, or through a nasal spray.
Over-the-counter medications do not attack the flu virus, but aim to provide relief for symptoms of the flu, such as muscle aches, headaches, fever and congestion. Over the counter meds should not be used as a substitute to seeing a doctor, as they may only temporarily make you feel better. However, you should consult with your doctor before giving over-the-counter medications to children, as they may have serious side affects (e.g. Reye's syndrome which is a rare, but fatal condition as a result of aspirin ingestion by children). And, of course, talk with your doctor to determine if you should not take any medication due to drug interactions and allergies.
As important as medication is to treating the flu, listen to your body by getting plenty of rest and liquids. You can also help getting over the flu by eating chicken soup (which contains vitamins and minerals, and may have oil in it that soothes the throat), abstaining from smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, and gargaling warm, salt water (to relieve throat pain). Additionally, a humidifier may make it easier to breathe. Ask your doctor about which common traditional remedies may provide relief for your specific set of symptoms.
Although there is not much you can do to treat the flu besides what's mentioned above, you can take preventative measures that lower your susceptibility. These include getting a flu shot for you, and others in your family; consult with your doctor first, especially if you are pregnant, have a weak immune system, or have some types of illnesses. Additionally, by maintaining good health with exercise, sleep, and a healthy diet; washing your hands; and avoiding places where there are large numbers of people (due to the ease of which flu spreads), then you are taking as many preventative measures as possible.
While the flu is common, and can be problematic for those in certain risk groups, preventative measures will help you reduce your risk as much as possible. A little foresight may allow you to remain flu-free year after year.