Influenza or flu is an infectious respiratory disease spread by an influenza virus. Symptoms can vary in severity but generally include headaches, fever, body aches, sore throat, cough and sinus congestion. Some people may be able to manage their symptoms with over-the-counter medicines such as pain killers, however, those who are vulnerable can experience serious symptoms that may require antiviral medicines such as Tamiflu or in the most serious cases require hospitalisation.

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Influenza Treatments

Advice for Influenza

What is Flu or Influenza?

Flu is caused by the influenza virus and it affects the respiratory passages. It is highly contagious and causes a variety of symptoms including aching, a fever, a runny or blocked nose, fatigue and in some cases it can develop into more serious illnesses including pneumonia or bronchiolitis.

There are products on the market such as Tamiflu which are designed to treat these symptoms, making them more bearable whilst simultaneously shortening the length of the illness by up to two days. This same product can also prevent the flu from taking hold if you have been exposed to someone suffering from it or in cases where there is flu within a community such as a school, retirement home or workplace.

What Causes Flu?

The flu virus travels through the air in droplets when someone with the infection coughs, sneezes or talks. You can inhale the droplets directly, or you can pick up the germs from an object — such as a phone or a computer keyboard — and then transfer them to your eyes, nose or mouth.

People with the virus are likely contagious from about a day before symptoms appear until about five days after they start. Children and people with weakened immune systems may be contagious for a slightly longer time.

Flu viruses are constantly changing, with new strains appearing regularly. If you've had flu in the past, your body has already made antibodies to fight that specific strain of the virus.

If future flu viruses are similar to those you've encountered before, either by having the disease or by getting vaccinated, those antibodies may prevent infection or lessen its severity. But antibody levels may decline over time.

Also, antibodies against flu viruses you've encountered in the past may not protect you from new strains that can be very different viruses from what you had before.

What are the Symptoms of Flu?

Symptoms of the flu come on suddenly and may include:

  • Fever or feeling feverish/chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Some people may also experience vomiting and diarrhoea. This is more common in children.

For most people, symptoms of the flu last for around 1 or 2 weeks, but in some cases can last for up to 1 month.

What is the difference between a cold and flu?

Sometimes people have trouble working out whether they have a cold or the flu because the common cold and flu share some similar symptoms such as a cough, runny nose and a sore throat, however, they are not the same. Not only are they caused by two different viruses, flu generally causes much more severe symptoms.

The symptoms of a cold also usually come on more slowly and colds only rarely cause a fever or headaches.

What is the difference between COVID-19 and flu?

Because some of the symptoms of flu and COVID-19 are similar, it may be hard to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone, and getting tested may be needed to help confirm a diagnosis.

Flu and COVID-19 share many symptoms, but there are some key differences between the two.

  • body aches, headaches and chills are common flu symptoms but are rarer in COVID cases
  • shortness of breath and respiratory issues are common COVID symptoms that are rare in flu
  • flu symptoms usually appear suddenly whereas COVID symptoms are more likely to develop over a longer period
  • Other signs and symptoms of COVID-19, different from flu, may include a change in or loss of taste or smell.

It is important that if you are unsure whether you are suffering from a cold, flu or COVID that you get tested or call NHS 111 for further information.

What Complications can Flu Cause?

If you are young and healthy, the flu usually isn't serious. Although you may feel miserable while you have it, the flu usually goes away in a week or two with no lasting effects.

Certain people, however, may be more likely to develop health complications from the flu, these at-risk groups include:

  • Adults 65 and older
  • Pregnant women
  • Children younger than 5
  • People with certain chronic health conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, and heart disease

The flu can make existing health problems worse. For example, people with asthma may have asthma attacks while they have flu.

In relatively rare circumstances people who catch the flu can also develop more serious health complications. Some of these complications include:

  • Bronchitis
  • Ear infection
  • Sinus infection
  • Pneumonia
  • Inflammation of the heart (myocarditis), brain (encephalitis), or muscle tissues (myositis, rhabdomyolysis)

How is Flu Diagnosed?

A number of flu tests are available to detect the influenza viruses from samples. The most common test is called “rapid influenza diagnostic tests (RIDTs).” RIDTs work by detecting the parts of the virus (antigens) that stimulate an immune response. These tests can provide results within approximately 10-15 minutes but are not as accurate as other flu tests.

As these tests are difficult to access, most cases of the flu are made on what is called a ‘clinical’ diagnosis. Your doctor will do this by assessing your symptoms. If there is any doubt, your doctor can make sure that it's the flu by taking a throat swab and testing it for the virus. This is rarely needed. If you have had the flu before you may be aware of the symptoms yourself and can determine if you need treatment.

How is Flu Treated?

Most people with the flu recover on their own without the need for medical care and can manage symptoms with over-the-counter medicines. People with mild cases of the flu should stay home and avoid contact with others, except to get medical care.

But if you have symptoms of flu and are in a high-risk group or are very sick or worried about your illness, contact your healthcare provider. You might need antiviral medicines to treat your flu such as Tamiflu.

Antiviral medicines such as Tamiflu can make the illness milder and shorten the time you are sick. They also can prevent serious flu complications. They usually work best when you start taking them within 2 days of getting sick.

Over-the-counter medication for flu

OTC medications won’t shorten the length of time you are affected by the flu, but they can help reduce symptoms.

Pain killers

OTC pain killers can reduce headaches, back and muscle pain that often accompanies the flu.

Pain killers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen can also be used to help bring down a fever or high temperature, which will help you feel more comfortable. Aspirin can also be taken by some people to help control aches and pains.

Cough suppressants

Cough suppressants can help to reduce the cough reflex. They’re useful in controlling dry coughs without mucus and can make you feel more comfortable if you find the flu is causing you to cough a lot. Pholcodine Linctus can be bought online.


Decongestants can help to relieve a runny, stuffy nose caused by the flu. Some decongestants found in OTC flu medications include pseudoephedrine (in Sudafed) should not be taken by people with high blood pressure.

Combination medications

Many OTC cold and flu medications combine two or more classes of drugs, most commonly a pain killer, a decongestant and a sedating antihistamine to help you get a restful nights sleep. This helps them treat a variety of symptoms at the same time and therefore makes them a very popular choice. Example medication includes:

Can Flu be Prevented?

Personal Hygiene

One of the simplest and effective ways of helping to reduce the spread of diseases including the flu is to practice good personal hygiene habits like covering your mouth when you cough, washing your hands and surfaces in your home often and binning used tissues quickly after use.

Flu Vaccination

The best way to prevent yourself from contracting the flu is to get the annual flu vaccine. The flu vaccine can reduce your risk of contracting the flu and its severity to help lower the risk of experiencing serious symptoms from the flu and needing to stay in the hospital.

Certain people are more likely to develop serious complications of flu, such as pneumonia and bronchitis, and are therefore are eligible for a free flu vaccine on the NHS once a year. You are eligible for the free vaccine if you are over the age of 65, pregnant, living in a long-stay residential care home, receive a carer’s allowance or have certain medical conditions. The vaccine is also free for children of certain ages. You can find out if you are eligible for a free flu vaccine and can book this on the NHS website.

Flu vaccine and COVID-19

It is especially important to accept the Flu vaccination this winter season because the flu and COVID-19 cause similar symptoms. Having your flu vaccination could reduce symptoms that might be confused with those caused by COVID-19.

Preventing cases of the flu and reducing the severity of flu symptoms should also lessen the number of people needing to stay in the hospital.

Preventing Flu with Tamiflu

If you are considered to be high-risk and are concerned you may have come into contact with someone currently infected by flu. You may be able to prevent yourself from contracting the flu by taking Tamiflu Capsules.

Researchers have found that taking Tamiflu within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms can reduce the duration and severity of the symptoms. Tamiflu works by interfering with the proteins the flu virus uses to reproduce, giving your immune system time to destroy it.

Tamiflu is only available from The Independent Pharmacy when you complete an online health consultation. This is quick and easy to do. If you are concerned about the risk of flu you should speak to a health professional for advice.

Alternative Treatments to Tamiflu

There is an inhaled antiviral medication that may be prescribed by GPs. This is mainly used to treat flu in pregnant women and people with severe kidney disease.

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