Flu season is upon us. While there is no cure for the flu, it is most often treated with rest and fluid intake while your immune system fights off the infection. Read on to learn more about over-the-counter drugs and home remedies that can help to ease symptoms and provide extra comfort during the healing process.
Acetaminophen, more commonly known by the brand name Tylenol, is a popular pain reliever, which can be helpful if you are suffering any headaches or body aches with the flu. However, acetaminophen is more significant for its ability to reduce fever, though research still doesn’t understand the exact mechanisms of action.1 Take acetaminophen as instructed by the label, and avoid taking too many medications containing acetaminophen (certain cough and cold medicines contain acetaminophen).
Dextromethorphan is a cough suppressant that works by altering the signals sent by your brain to trigger the coughing reflex. It is readily available in cough syrups and lozenges. Read the label to determine the proper dosage. Dextromethorphan should not be given to children under the age of 4.2
Guaifenesin is an expectorant, meaning that it can loosen and reduce mucus in the throat to relieve chest congestion. It is available in tablets and capsules, but guaifenesin is often found in cough syrups combined with other medications. Use as directed by the label. If you experience upset stomach, take guaifenesin after a meal. Do not give children guaifenesin unless recommended by your healthcare provider.3
Phenylephrine is used as a nasal decongestant to relieve a sinus congestion and a stuffy nose. It is often included in combination cold medications and is also available in chewable or disintegrating tablets.4
7 Home Remedies for the Flu
A common remedy in traditional folk medicines, elderberry may actually shorten the duration of the flu. In one study, 60 patients exhibiting flu-like symptoms were provided with a placebo syrup or 15 ml. of elderberry four times per day for five days. Symptoms were recorded based on a visual analogue scale. Results found that the patients taking elderberry had their symptoms relieved an average of four days earlier than those taking a placebo.5 This suggests that elderberry may be a safe and efficient treatment for relieving flu symptoms and reducing the duration of illness.
Dr. Mary Sawdon, M.D., N.D, recommends elderberry syrup to reduce the duration of colds and other respiratory infections, along with the use of other berries, like blueberries. According to Dr. Sawdon, berries are naturally high in flavonoids, which are helpful in fighting upper respiratory infections.
2. Zinc Lozenges
Zinc is an important mineral that plays an important role in supporting your natural immune system. "Zinc is an essential mineral involved in the production of certain immune cells,” according to Hayley Cimring, R.D., a registered dietician and diet and nutrition specialist.
A meta-analysis suggests that zinc may also be beneficial for cold and flu symptoms. The meta-analyses found that patients taking zinc had a mean common cold duration that was 33 percent shorter than in control groups.6
Studies also suggest that zinc intake may play an important role in the reproduction of and resistance to the influenza virus.7
This is why zinc is an important component of our Immune Support lozenges.
3. White Willow Bark
White willow bark is used in traditional medicine to reduce fevers and relieve pain. Its active ingredient is salicin, which the body can convert into salicylic acid, which is also the main metabolite of aspirin. As an anti-inflammatory compound, salicylic acid may help to reduce inflammation and fever caused by the flu.8
The leaves of the feverfew plant contain a variety of compounds that may provide therapeutic benefits. Oral forms of feverfew are often taken to remedy migraine symptoms. Studies suggest that it may help to reduce fevers and relieve pain.9
Commonly included in cough syrups, menthol may act as a cough suppressant. Studies have found that inhaling menthol may increase cough reflex thresholds to reduce coughing frequency.10 Menthol is also believed to improve nasal congestion. Studies have found that menthol does not have any physiological effect on nasal flow, results show that menthol significantly increases the perception of nasal decongestion, which may support your general comfort.11
6. Eucalyptus Oil
Eucalyptus oil is suggested to have antimicrobial and immune-modulation effects. Commonly incorporated into vapor rubs, eucalyptus oil may also help to reduce nasal congestion and provide relief for a sore throat.12
Studies suggest that the influenza virus’ ability to spread and survive outside of the body is directly related to humidity levels. This partly explains why the flu is more common in the winter months when the air is dry. Studies found that, at a humidity level of 43 percent, only 14 percent of flu virus particles were able to cause an infection. At 23 percent humidity, up to 77 percent of virus particles were infectious.13 Using a humidifier in a cold, dry room may prevent the spread of germs and reduce the virus’ ability to replicate. However, be aware that humidity levels that get too high may increase the risk of mold growth.
Along with reducing the potential of infecting others, a humidifier may help you breathe easier. By adding moisture into the air, humidifiers allow your sinuses to flow and drain properly, reducing mucus buildup and preventing nasal congestion.14
Getting your annual flu shot is still one of the best ways to prevent the flu, but if you already have the flu, over-the-counter and home remedies can provide you with the comfort and relief that you need.