Treating flu 

If you have flu, it will usually be possible for you to treat yourself effectively at home.

If this is the case, you should:

  • rest
  • keep warm
  • drink 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 high temperature and relieve aches.

If you are in a high-risk group and are more likely to suffer complications from flu, your doctor may prescribe antiviral medication.

Antivirals will not cure flu, but they will help to:

  • reduce the length of time you are ill by around one day
  • relieve some of the symptoms
  • reduce the potential for serious complications

Antibiotics are not prescribed for flu as they have no effect on viruses. However, occasionally it may be necessary to treat complications of flu, especially serious chest infections or pneumonia, with a course of antibiotics.

Antiviral medications

Antivirals work by stopping the virus from multiplying in your body. There are two main types:

  • Tamiflu
  • Relenza

Tamiflu (oseltamivir)

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 are worried.

Relenza (zanamivir)

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.

Antiviral medication can sometimes also be taken to prevent flu.

Read more about flu medicines.

Who needs antivirals?

You may be prescribed antivirals if you are:

  • pregnant
  • 65 or over

Or if you have:

  • lung disease
  • heart disease 
  • kidney disease
  • liver disease
  • neurological disease, such as motor neurone disease, Parkinson's or multiple sclerosis
  • a weakened immune system  
  • diabetes

Page last reviewed: 16/05/2013

Next review due: 16/05/2015