What Medications Treat Flu in Adults?
Antibiotics are not antivirals and may cause unnecessary complications if given to treat a virus like the flu. They do not prevent influenza-related bacterial pneumonia. If a person who has received unnecessary antibiotics develops pneumonia, the bacteria may be resistant, and there is a higher risk of hospitalization and treatment failure.
Antiviral drugs are not a substitute for the flu vaccine. Getting the annual seasonal flu vaccine is still the best way to prevent the flu.
Antiviral drugs, however, are useful to decrease the severity and duration of a flu attack. They are most effective when given within 48 hours of the onset of illness. They can decrease the duration of the disease by one day if used within this early period. They may be able to reduce the incidence of complications from the flu as well as decrease or shorten the amount of flu virus shed by the sick person.
Oseltamivir (Tamiflu), zanamivir (Relenza), and peramivir (Rapivab) are neuraminidase inhibitor drugs recommended to treat seasonal flu. They are active against both influenza A and B, although resistance to these drugs may develop in some strains of influenza A. Side effects may include nervousness, poor concentration, nausea, and vomiting. Discuss side effects with a pharmacist or health care provider. The neuraminidase inhibitor class includes oral, inhaled, or injected drugs. Those approved by the U.S. FDA include
- oseltamivir (available as generic, or under the trade name, Tamiflu),
- zanamivir (Relenza), and
- peramivir (Rapivab).
Oseltamivir is given by mouth as a solution or pill and is FDA-approved for use in people age 14 days and older. Zanamivir is inhaled and is not recommended in those with lung problems like asthma or COPD. It is approved for use in people ages 7 years and above. People usually take both for a period of about five to seven days. Oseltamivir is safe and recommended for use by pregnant women.
Physicians administer peramivir as a single dose intravenously and is currently U.S. FDA approved for adults 18 years and older. The polymerase acidic (PA) endonuclease inhibitor class includes FDA-approved Xofluza (baloxavir marboxil), which is taken orally in one dose.
For nasal congestion, a health care professional may suggest the use of over-the-counter decongestants. Anyone with high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, thyroid disease, enlarged prostate, glaucoma (high pressure inside the eye), or pregnancy should not use decongestants without a health care provider's advice.
Phenylephrine (Neo-Synephrine) and oxymetazoline hydrochloride (Neo-Synephrine 12 Hour, Afrin) are available as nasal sprays or drops. Use two to three sprays in each nostril as indicated on the label. Only use these nasal sprays or drops for up to three days. If they are used for more than that, the medication can actually worsen the congestion. These medications are not recommended for children.
Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) comes in tablet form and may also help congestion. It may interact with certain foods and quite a few medications, elevate blood pressure and heart rate, and cause other serious side effects. People with chronic health conditions or on medications should consult a pharmacist or their health care professional before using pseudoephedrine.