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It started—the achy muscles, runny nose, fever, chills, and cough. It’s the flu. But, there’s no time to be sick.
In the overzealous search for a cure, people make missteps. Here’s what to avoid when suffering from the flu:
Don’t take antibiotics
A virus causes the flu. Only an anti-viral quashes virus.
“Don’t expect the usual antibiotics to have any impact on the flu. There are prescription antiviral drugs that work on influenza and nothing else [works],” says Dr. Susan Rehm, vice chair of Cleveland Clinic’s infectious diseases department.
Antibiotics can also have nasty side effects, causing yeast infections, upset stomachs, and diarrhea.
“Now we are seeing antibiotics in the long term can affect the bacteria in your gut,” says Dr. Nasia Safdar, medical director of infection control at University of Wisconsin Hospital in Madison.
Besides being entirely ineffective at curing the flu, when people take antibiotics too often they can develop a resistance to them. Then when they need them, the antibiotics fail.
Don’t dose with vitamin C
“The data on [vitamin C] is a little weak,” says Safdar. “If you take an excess of anything that is a water soluble vitamin, the excess goes out in the urine.”
Popping vitamin C pills or using cough drops with vitamin C in them probably won’t boost the immune system or make the flu go away faster.
“In some ways, you are spending a lot of money, where the value is not at all proven,” Safdar says.
Don’t medicate with a hot toddy
Maybe Grandma swore that a hot, boozy drink eased the flu’s symptoms, but she’s not always right. While alcohol soothes raw throats and quiet coughs — (alcohol is a cough suppressant, and that's one of the reasons it’s in over-the counter cough medications) — it causes dehydration, which compounds the dehydration already caused by the flu.
Now, add this fact: booze causes poor sleep. That heated cocktail becomes recipe for disaster.
“Avoid alcohol … it won’t allow you to get a good, restful sleep,” says Dr. Heather Rosen, medical director at UPMC Urgent Care in North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania.
Too much alcohol causes drowsiness, just like some over-the-counter cold medications. Combining cold medication and alcohol can be dangerous, so don't do it.
Skip the nasal spray
Some turn to decongestant nasal sprays to help with the agony of clogged noses, but they might do more harm than good.
“They [the sprays] are very drying in the nose and the throat,” says Rehm. “Many of them may not work in the long term.”
She says that nasal sprays should only be used for three days at most. And, the more often people use them, the less likely they are to work.
“You will get a rebound swelling once the effect has worn off,” she says. This swelling and congestion means people need to turn to nasal sprays again and again.
Rehm says nasal congestion often signals a cold, not the flu. That’s one of the reasons why she recommends people see their doctors within 48-hours of the symptoms, when an antiviral is most effective.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that children under 2, people over 65, and people with chronic conditions receive antiviral medication for the flu to avoid complications.
Don’t go to work
“If you think you have the flu, the place for you is in bed and at home,” says Rehm. “Flu symptoms last five to seven days; you should not begin to resume normal activities until 24 hours after the last fever.”
Going to work or school with the flu means sick people infect others. And, there is more than one strain of flu, meaning people risk becoming infected with another strain, says Rosen.
“You become susceptible to other infections as well. It is just not a good thing [to go out] because your immunity is down,” she says.