Disclaimer: The guidance expressed in this article is based on the author’s experiences and should not be taken as medical advice.
As flu season descends on Albion College, the medicine aisle in the closest grocery store morphs into the hottest hangout spot. The shelves are stacked high with an array of colorful boxes and bottles, each promising more relief than the next.
Navigating this sea of options can be daunting, especially with the increasing complexity of ingredients. With viruses like COVID-19 and influenza making their impacts in the colder months, it can become more and more difficult to decipher the contents of these medications.
When you finally pick a box or bottle, there’s still a chance that particular remedy won’t work.
How do you determine which medication to pick, and what do these complex ingredients really do?
Grab your metaphorical map. Together, let’s navigate the intricate terrain of flu medications, understanding not just what’s on the label, but the science behind the relief they offer.
In general, flu antiviral drugs, like Tamiflu or Rapivab, are prescription medicines that fight against any trace of flu in your body. It’s important to note that you can’t get an antiviral flu drug without a prescription, similar to antibiotics.
If you’re being prescribed one, it’s likely a neuraminidase inhibitor, which is a molecule that blocks an enzyme that makes you feel like missing class in bed all day.
According to the Center for Disease Control, “These medicines can lessen fever and flu symptoms and shorten the time you are sick by about one day.”
If you remain sick beyond that period, the medicine works to instead lessen symptoms – so you’re ending up in class as opposed to the hospital. It should be noted that if you’re at high risk of serious flu complications, a healthcare professional will likely not prescribe you a viral drug.
Pain Relievers and Fever Reducers
Fever reducers are used for exactly what the term suggests. They help manage flu symptoms such as fever, body aches and headaches.
Although that sounds simple enough, there are actually two kinds you can choose from: Acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
Healthline, a health information platform, classifies NSAIDs as “Ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen.”
NSAIDs work by blocking a specific enzyme called cyclooxygenase which makes chemicals that cause swelling. Acetaminophen, on the other hand, doesn’t decrease swelling or inflammation. Instead, it changes the way your body senses pain and cools it down.
It’s important to use fever reducers for the shortest time possible and at the lowest effective dose. Furthermore, do not take them if you are dehydrated, as it causes an increase in side effects.
Decongestants help reduce swelling in the lining of your nose, which relieves the feeling of pressure you have when you’re congested. In terms of how they work, they block a chemical your body makes called histamine that makes the tissues in your nose itch. A variety of decongestants don’t contain phenylpropanolamine as of Sept. of this year because of its ineffectiveness and increased risk of stroke, so it’s still important to check ingredients on the back of old medicine.
Decongestants, such as Mucinex or Theraflu, are generally safe when taken occasionally, but it doesn’t mean you should take them multiple times a day. Frequent usage can make your stuffiness worse or cause inflammation of the nasal passages. Furthermore, many decongestants react badly with Acetaminophen, so they shouldn’t be taken together.
When medicines aren’t working or there are too many to choose from, natural remedies are an option that have been around long before the first mass-produced drugs. Since flu season commonly happens in the winter, the dry air can throw your bodily systems off. GoodRX, a wellness database, recommends spending some time outside while bundling up to keep yourself warm.
If you’re not able to be outside, another natural remedy is getting extra rest. Your immune system has extra work to do while you’re under the weather. By sleeping more than usual, you can conserve energy and give your immune system what it needs to do its job.
If you feel well enough to step out of your room and into your kitchen or Baldwin, tea is a well-tested natural remedy. Some teas, like green tea, may even lower your risk of getting sick with other viruses as well.
In all, there’s no one right way to treat the flu. The only person who knows what works is yourself and the healthcare professionals that you consult.
Approach this season with the confidence born of understanding and confront the path to recovery with resilience and optimism, Albion College.