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Prescription Flu Medications Can Make Your Bout More Bearable

But You Need to Take Prescription Flu Medications Within 48 Hours of the Onset of the Illness

By Nancy Larson

Updated February 25, 2009

(LifeWire) - Are you aching all over, alternating between burning up and shivering, and feeling nauseated by the thought of food? It is quite possible that you've got the flu. Do you have to tough it out with only the help of over-the-counter (OTC) medicines -- or should you consider asking your doctor about a prescription flu medication?

Several prescription drugs can make you feel better faster, especially if you start taking them early enough.

When to See a Doctor

If you have symptoms that could be compatible with the flu, you should see a doctor if you have a chronic condition such as congestive heart failure, asthma or diabetes, or if your symptoms include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Feeling faint or fainting
  • Feeling confused or disoriented
  • Continual vomiting
  • Severe facial or forehead pain
  • Fever of 102 F or more for longer than three days
  • Any flu symptoms lasting more than 10 days or getting worse
  • Cough, sore throat or hoarseness lingering more than 10 days

Not treating serious, prolonged symptoms can lead to complications such as bacterial pneumonia, ear or sinus infections or dehydration. Failing to get treatment can also cause conditions such as congestive heart failure, asthma or diabetes to get worse.

Prescription Drugs Can Help

You don't have to have severe symptoms to get prescription medication. Anyone who is diagnosed with the flu can get a prescription for antiviral drugs, which makes it difficult for the virus to reproduce. Timing is crucial: The medicines must be started within two days after you become sick. They can make your symptoms less severe and might shorten your illness by one to two days.

Two types are available in the United States:

Neuraminidase inhibitors: Tamiflu (oseltamivir) and Relenza (zanamivir) fight influenza A and B viruses. The most common side effect of these neuraminidase inhibitors is nausea. Diarrhea, sinusitis, runny or stuffy nose, bronchitis, cough, headache, dizziness, and ear, nose and throat infections may also occur with Relenza. Serious breathing problems may result from Relenza use in those with chronic asthma or other lung disease.

Adamantanes: Symmetrel (amantadine)and Flumadine (rimantadine) fight influenza A viruses. However, more recently, due to viral resistance, this class is not recommended for flu in the United States execept under certain circumstances. Side effects (more likely from amantadine) include nervousness, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, lightheadedness, nausea and appetite loss. Delirium, hallucinations and seizures may occur in those with long-term illnesses.

Antivirals can also be taken to prevent flu, especially for those at high risk for complications who have been  exposed to people who are not able to receive the flu vaccine. If you are exposed and see your doctor within 48 hours, you can have the vaccine and start a course of antivirals. In the setting of a known exposure, the live vaccine is not  a good addition to antivirals to prevent the development of the flu instead of the following: Timing is important. Taking them less than 48 hours before or less than two weeks after getting a specific type of flu shot -- the live attenuated influenza vaccine -- may lower the vaccine's effectiveness.


"Antiviral Drugs for Seasonal Flu." cdc.gov. 19 Dec. 2008. Centers for Disease Control. 3 Feb. 2009 <http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/antiviral.htm>.

"Colds and the Flu." familydoctor.org. Nov. 2007. American Academy of Family Physicians. 3 Feb. 2009 <http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/common/infections/cold-flu/073.html>.

"Key Facts About Seasonal Influenza (Flu)." cdc.gov. 16 Jul. 2008. Centers for Disease Control. 3 Feb. 2009 <http://www.cdc.gov/flu/keyfacts.htm>. 

LifeWire, a part of The New York Times Company, provides original and syndicated online lifestyle content. Nancy Larson is a St. Louis-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in dozens of local and national print and online publications including CNN.com, The Weather Channel, Health magazine and The Advocate.

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