Unlike the common cold, which is annoying but ultimately harmless, the flu can be dangerous — even deadly. Your best bet? Focusing on the twin Super Threats of chronic stress and immune weakness. With a strong immune system, you’re much more likely to fight off this potential killer.
If you do get the flu, act fast. Prescription antiviral medications can help you get better faster, and numerous studies find that natural remedies can also significantly reduce the amount of time you suffer — but you need to take them at the very first sign of symptoms, or as a precaution during flu season.
Do This Now
Follow these six steps at the first sign of the flu.
1. Call your doctor and ask for an antiviral medication such as amantadine, rimantadine, zanamivir, or oseltamivir.
2. At the same time, start taking 1 tablespoon of the liquid elderberry extract Sambucol four times a day for three to five days.
3. Also start taking the homeopathic remedy Anas Barbariae Hepatis et cordis extractum 200c, more commonly known as Oscillococcinum or Flu Remedy. Follow the dosage instructions on the package.
4. To relieve headache and achiness, take 500 to 1,000 milligrams of enteric-coated aspirin, 200 milligrams of ibuprofen, or 500 to 1,000 milligrams of acetaminophen every four to six hours, or 275 milligrams of naproxen twice a day. Don’t take acetaminophen if you have liver disease. Don’t give aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen to children or adolescents (use acetaminophen instead).
5. Now that you’re medicated, work on bringing your fever down to make yourself more comfortable. Start with cool compresses on the pulse points at the neck, throat, and wrists.
6. If your fever is still high and you’re still achy, add a cup of Epsom or sea salt to a warm tub, soak for 20 minutes, then wrap up warmly and lie under blankets to induce a sweat. Adding 10 to 15 drops of eucalyptus or peppermint oil to the bath will help with congestion, cough, and muscle aches.
Antiviral drugs can decrease the severity and length of your infection if you take them within the first day or two of symptoms. They’re particularly helpful if you got the flu even though you were vaccinated, because chances are you’re dealing with a different strain from the ones in the vaccine.
Sambucol also fights the flu directly. One well-designed study of 60 patients, all of whom had the flu, found that those who received the supplement were nearly recovered by the third or fourth day of treatment, whereas it took seven to eight days for the people in the placebo group to feel better. Researchers think that compounds called anthocyanins in elderberry may be responsible; they boost the immune system and also seem to prevent the flu virus from sticking to cells.
The other treatments are all about making you more comfortable and relieving aches and pains. The warm bath has an added effect: it causes a slight increase in body temperature, which makes bacteria-killing enzymes more effective, potentially helping to prevent a secondary bacterial infection when your defenses are down.
Other Medicines and Approaches
- Fenugreek. If you’re coughing, take 2 capsules three or four times a day. This herb helps thin mucus and also soothes a dry cough. (Note that it makes your urine smell sweet.)
- Cough suppressants. If you want to use a cough suppressant, choose one that contains dextromethorphan. At night, try Delsym, which lasts for 12 hours.
- Sports creams. For body aches, massage a pain-relief rub or sports cream like Ben-Gay or Tiger Balm onto the achy areas.
- Fluids. Drink lots and lots of fluids, both hot and cold. Avoid caffeinated and overly sweet drinks like sodas and undiluted fruit juices.
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