How to Treat the Flu: Beating the Flu, Symptom by Symptom

Page content

Influenza, otherwise known as ‘the flu’, is a viral infection. How to treat the flu will depend largely upon the particular symptoms experienced with it. These symptoms can vary from person-to-person and with each bout of the flu any given person experiences.


For the flu symptom of congestion, whether nasal or sinus, a decongestant would be an appropriate treatment. Decongestants come in many forms, as well as in formulas for adults and children.

It should be noted that when decongestants are taken for more than a few days and then stopped, the patient can rebound. This means the patient can lose any progress they have made in fighting the flu.

Stuffy Nose

If the flu patient has a stuff nose, one option is to use a nasal spray to help relieve symptoms. If a decongestant is being taken, however, this may be unnecessary. As with decongestants, if a nasal spray is used for more than just a few days in a row, a rebound can occur.

Runny Nose

A runny nose may be treated with an antihistamine. This type of medication can also help relive sneezing, if present. Antihistamines tend to cause drowsiness and can thicken mucus.

Cough Medicine

Decongestant and cough medicine can each help relive a nasty cough due to the flu. Some cough medications include ingredients to address other flu symptoms, and may be used quite effectively in addressing symptoms.

Eye Drops

If a patient’s eyes are watery, itchy or red, an eye drop remedy may be in order. This, too, can cause a rebound if used too much.


Medications containing naproxen or ibuprofen may be used while experiencing the flu in order to help reduce fever and body aches, though reducing fever is not viewed the way it used to be.

Because a fever is a sign the body is fighting off infection, unless the fever is in a young child or dangerously high, it can be best to let it run its course.

Salt Water Gargles

Those experiencing the flu with a sore throat may find salt water gargles helpful in combating pain. Lozenges can also be used to offer some temporary relief.


If an antiviral is taken at the onset of the flu, it can help reduce the full impact the patient will experience. A doctor will be able to help decide which antiviral is best, based upon the symptoms experienced by the patient.

A Note about Antibiotics

No information regarding how to treat the flu is complete without the following notation. It should be noted that antibiotics cannot help with the flu, though they can address other symptoms such as a sinus infection. This is because antibiotics target bacterial infections, whereas the virus is a viral infection.


Influenza (flu). Mayo Clinic Staff. August 21, 2010.

Flu Guide. WebMD.