The flu is a problem that most of us face or have faced one or more times in our lives . It is a disease that has the potential to be fatal (in fact, throughout history it has been so many times) but that nowadays in societies like ours it is usually no more than a nuisance in most cases.
However, treating a flu is more complicated than it seems. In fact, there are no medicines that “cure” the flu, and medical treatment is mainly dedicated to reducing the affection and symptoms caused by the fact of having it. What medicines for the flu exist and what are they for? In this article we will briefly explore this question.
Defining the Flu
Before we get into what medications are used to alleviate your symptoms, it might be helpful to move on to defining what the flu is, which on a popular level is often confused with the cold.
The flu is understood as a viral infection of the respiratory tract, usually caused by the influenza virus. Although we generally talk about flu as something general, the truth is that the influenza virus mutates easily and different strains and subtypes can be found that generate different types of flu. Specifically, there are three main types: A, B (these two are among the most common and are called seasonal flues) and C, although new strains may appear from time to time as occurred with swine flu or avian flu.
The main symptoms of most flus usually include fever, headache, sore throat, runny nose, muscle pain, altered heat perception and chills. It often leads to respiratory disorders, such as difficulty inhaling and coughing. In fact, its most important and dangerous complication is usually pneumonia.
The spread of this disease can occur by different routes, which usually include contact with fluids from a sick person through the nose, mouth or conjunctiva. For example, it can be transmitted through saliva or even through the air, such as after a sneeze or a kiss.
Main medications used in people with the flu
As indicated above, the flu still has no curative treatment, and the body must overcome it on its own. The medical intervention will be based on the fight against the symptoms and discomfort generated by it . In this sense, in most cases a series of medicines can be prescribed for the flu, which we will mention below.
Zanamivir and oseltamivir (better known as tamiflu) have been considered drugs that are somewhat effective in preventing the virus from reproducing within the body , being inhibitors of the enzyme neuroaminidase (which allows the release of the virus from infected cells to others). The first is used by inhalation, while the second is given orally.
Although it does not eliminate the infection, in principle it allows its expansion to be controlled and can also serve as prophylaxis. They produce some improvement and may shorten the time the virus is in our body, but they are not able to cure the condition. Nor have they shown any real effect in preventing respiratory complications.
Because the improvement they provide is limited and in some cases can lead to problems and side effects, they are not usually specially recommended or prescribed. In fact, their effectiveness is considered low and many people consider them a fraud.
Since the pain caused by the infection at the level of the throat, head and joints is usually one of the most uncomfortable symptoms, one of the main medicines prescribed in case of flu is the painkillers . Paracetamol stands out as one of the most popular.
Controlling body temperature and fever is also necessary when we are suffering from the flu , so the group of drugs known as antipyretics have also been used to reduce it.
Improvement of nasal symptoms such as runny nose, although usually occurring on its own within a few days , can be induced by the application of antihistamines.
5. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
If we hear this name, it may seem strange, but the truth is that is the group of medicines that includes ibuprofen . They serve both as an analgesic and as an antipyretic, reducing fever and pain. It also has some anti-inflammatory effect.
Respiratory conditions are very common during the flu, with coughing being one of the most common symptoms. That is why sometimes some antitussives can be prescribed to reduce this symptom, although they often have little effect.
Syrups or creams are usually used and applied to the skin to release vapors that will be inhaled over time. There are other products for this, one of the most powerful (and reserved for cases where the cough is very annoying and generates pain) being codeine. At a more natural level, foods such as honey can be used .
Despite their name, flu medications do not really fight the flu virus infection but focus on relieving its symptoms . They are usually a combination of an analgesic, antihistamine and antitussive. They are not usually prescribed clinically, but are still very popular and reduce a lot of symptoms or discomfort. They are usually the type of product we see advertised on television (specifying that they are dedicated to fighting the symptoms), and there are widely known and used brands.
Although it is not common, in some cases the flu can be complicated if you have a bacterial infection in addition to the virus itself . In these cases it may be necessary to use antibiotics such as amoxicillin. However, the effect is only on the bacterial infection, not on the flu itself (which is a viral infection over which antibiotics have no effect).
The vaccine as a real prevention
While flu treatments are not curative but merely palliative, we do have ways to prevent the spread of the flu. In particular, we are talking about the flu vaccine, which must be given annually. An inactivated sample of the virus is injected into the body so that the subject’s body generates antibodies that prevent future infections. However it must be taken into account that there are multiple ways in which the flu virus is highly mutable, making it easy for new strains to appear .
Although a large part of the population does not wear it, it is essential for that population for whom contracting the flu can be a danger. This is the case for populations with reduced defences, such as the elderly, children and the chronically ill and/or immunosuppressed (e.g. people suffering from HIV infection or diabetes).