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Diagnosing and Treating Influenza

Top 5 Questions for Your Doctor

See 5 important questions to ask your healthcare provider about the flu.

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There are effective treatments that can reduce the duration of the suffering caused by the flu and improve symptoms. See a healthcare provider as soon as flu symptoms appear to find out if these treatments are right for you.

How Is Influenza Diagnosed?

It is hard to know for sure you have the flu on the basis of symptoms alone. A doctor's exam may be needed to tell whether you have developed the flu or a complication of the flu. There are tests that can determine if you have the flu as long you are tested within the first 2 or 3 days of illness.

If you develop flu-like symptoms and are concerned about your illness because you are at high risk for complications, you should talk to your healthcare provider. There are rapid diagnostic tests that can be ordered and many providers use antiviral medications when they are confident of the diagnosis.

How Is Influenza Treated?

Treating the flu includes staying home, getting adequate rest and staying hydrated. Your doctor may prescribe antiviral medication to treat the virus, and over-the-counter medication can be used to minimize discomfort associated with flu symptoms (for example, decongestant and antihistamine for congestion, cough and nasal discharge). Antibiotics are not useful in treating the flu, but may be prescribed if necessary to clear up a related sinus or ear infection.

Antiviral Medication

There are two commonly used antiviral drugs: oseltamivir (trade name Tamiflu®), which comes in pill form, and peramivir (trade name Rapivab®), which is administered  intravenously. These drugs have been shown to reduce flu symptoms if started within a day or two of getting sick.

Antiviral medicine is recommended for people with more severe illness, especially those who might require hospitalization. Talk to your doctor about which of these treatments may be right for you.

Treatment with antiviral medicine is most important for people with suspected or confirmed influenza who are at higher risk for complications, including:

  • Children younger than 2 years old
  • Adults 65 years and older
  • Pregnant women
  • People with certain chronic medical conditions, such as asthma or COPD, or with suppressed immune systems

It is important to note that people with chronic lung disease, including asthma, should not use the inhaled powder Relenza, or Rapivab because it sometimes worsens breathing problems.

Learn more about preventing influenza.


    Approved by Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel. Last reviewed October 5, 2016.

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