Treating flu 

Usually, you can manage flu symptoms yourself at home and there's no need to see a GP. Most people feel better within a week.

If you're at a higher risk of becoming more seriously ill, you should consider seeing your GP in case you need to take antiviral medication.

Managing your symptoms at home

If you're otherwise healthy, you can look after yourself at home by:

  • resting
  • keeping warm
  • drinking plenty of water to avoid dehydration

If you feel unwell and have a fever, you can take paracetamol or anti-inflammatory medicines such as ibuprofen to lower your temperature and relieve aches. Children under 16 shouldn't be given aspirin.

Stay off work or school until you're feeling better. For most people, this will take about a week. See your GP if your symptoms get worse or last longer than a week.

Read the page on preventing flu for more information about stopping the infection spreading to others.

Antiviral medication for at-risk groups

If you're in a high-risk group that means you're more likely to experience complications of flu, your doctor may recommend antiviral medication. This includes people who:

  • are 65 or over
  • are pregnant
  • have a lung, heart, kidney, liver or neurological disease
  • have a weakened immune system  
  • have diabetes

Antivirals work by stopping the flu virus from multiplying in your body. They won't cure flu, but they may help to slightly reduce the length of time you're ill, relieve some of your symptoms, and reduce the risk of serious complications.

The two main types of antiviral medication used to treat people with flu are oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza).

Antibiotics are not prescribed for flu as they have no effect on viruses, although they may be prescribed if you develop a complication of flu, such as a bacterial chest infection.

Oseltamivir (Tamiflu)

Tamiflu is taken by mouth (orally) in capsule or liquid form. You need to start taking Tamiflu within 48 hours of getting the first symptoms of flu.

The dose is usually one tablet twice a day for five days. However, if you have kidney disease, you may be prescribed a lower dose.

Tamiflu can cause nausea, vomiting, stomach pain and diarrhoea. These side effects shouldn't be serious, but see your GP if you're concerned.

Zanamivir (Relenza)

Relenza is a dry powder that you breathe in through an inhaler. As with Tamiflu, you need to start taking it within 48 hours of your first flu symptoms (36 hours for children).

The dose is two inhalations twice a day for five days. It's a safe treatment that rarely has any side effects.

For more information, read the guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) on antivirals to treat influenza.

Page last reviewed: 01/04/2015

Next review due: 01/04/2017