Prescription Medications For Colds Or Flu
The first line of treatment for the common cold and influenza is self-care as you allow these viral illnesses to simply run their course. But there are cases in which you may need a medical evaluation and prescription medication to tame severe symptoms, prevent a worsening of your condition, or avoid related complications.
Cough suppressants, antihistamines, decongestants, and nasal steroids are prescription cold and/or flu medications that can help provide you some symptom relief, while the main job of antivirals and antibiotics is to stop what’s causing your illness in its tracks.
Check If You Have Flu
Flu symptoms come on very quickly and can include:
- a sudden high temperature of 38C or above
- an aching body
- diarrhoea or tummy pain
- feeling sick and being sick
The symptoms are similar for children, but they can also get pain in their ear and appear less active.
Cold and flu symptoms are similar, but flu tends to be more severe.
|Appears quickly within a few hours||Appears gradually|
|Affects more than just your nose and throat||Affects mainly your nose and throat|
|Makes you feel exhausted and too unwell to carry on as normal||Makes you feel unwell, but you’re OK to carry on as normal|
Antibiotics: Too Much Of A Good Thing
The fewer antibiotics we all take, the better for ourselves and the whole planet.
Although antibiotics kill both good and bad bacteria, they can miss bacteria like Clostridium difficile . After taking antibiotics, you could get a C. diff infection, which causes diarrhea and can require emergency medical attention. Antibiotics can also cause abdominal pain and yeast infections like vaginosis or thrush.
Overuse of antibiotics also contributes to the rise of super bugs, or antibiotic resistant bacteria. So, avoiding antibiotics when possible is one way to promote good health globally.
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What Are Other Ways To Treat And Prevent The Flu
Antiviral prescription medicines and an annual flu vaccine are available for treating and preventing the flu.
Prescription anti-flu medicines include amantadine , rimantadine , zanamivir and oseltamivir . These drugs do not cure the flu, but they can make the symptoms milder and make you feel better more quickly. They are only effective when used in the first 48 hours of flu-like symptoms.
These drugs are not needed for healthy people who get the flu. They are usually reserved for people who are very sick with the flu or those who are at risk of complications from the flu, such as people with long-term chronic medical conditions or older age.
Flu vaccine . Although there is currently no vaccine against the common cold, there is a vaccine to prevent the flu. The vaccine is available by both shot and nasal spray. It works by exposing the immune system to the viruses. The body responds by building antibodies against the flu. The flu shot contains dead flu viruses. The nasal spray contains live, but weakened, flu viruses. The nasal spray is only approved for healthy children and adults two to 49 years old and who are not pregnant.
Using Antibiotics Responsibly: Our Commitment
At Atrium Health, we spread antibiotic education to our doctors through our Antimicrobial Support Network and patient care collaborative, which both work with doctors to make sure patients are prescribed the most appropriate antibiotics. The ultimate goal is to improve your care and safety.
About Atrium Health
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When And Why You Might Need An Antibiotic For A Cold
Daniel More, MD, is a board-certified allergist and clinical immunologist with a background in internal medicine.
Any given adult will get a cold at least a couple of times a yearusually in the fall and winter. Kids can get many colds, maybe even half a dozen or more a year. When you get a cold, also known as an upper respiratory tract infection, should you visit your healthcare provider and get antibiotics?
The truth is, antibiotics for respiratory infections arent going to make you feel better sooner, and they might even leave you with side effects that make you feel worse.
Colds are known medically as upper respiratory tract infections because theyre usually limited to the upper half of your respiratory systemthe nose, sinuses, upper throat, larynx, and pharynx. These infections dont, for example, include infections that affect your lungs, like pneumonia.
Upper respiratory tract infections are usually caused by viruses, like rhinovirus, coronavirus, or influenza, though rarely they are caused by bacteria. Bacteria that infect the upper respiratory tract are most often S. pyogenes , or sometimes H influenzae.
Due to the development and routine administration of the H. influenzae vaccine over the past 30 years, the incidence of this infection has dropped substantially.
Antibiotics may be prescribed in a few different situations:
When Not To Use Antibiotics
Antibiotics are not the correct choice for all infections. For example, most sore throats, cough and colds, flu, COVID or acute sinusitis are viral in origin and do not need an antibiotic. These viral infections are self-limiting, meaning that your own immune system will usually kick in and fight the virus off.
Using antibiotics for viral infections can increase the risk for antibiotic resistance. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria cannot be fully inhibited or killed by an antibiotic, even though the antibiotic may have worked effectively before the resistance occurred. This can also lower your options for effective treatments if an antibiotic is needed eventually due to a secondary infection. Using unnecessary antibiotics also puts you at risk for side effects and adds extra cost.
It’s important not to share your antibiotic or take medicine that was prescribed for someone else, and don’t save an antibiotic to use the next time you get sick. It may not be the right drug for your illness.
To better understand antibiotics, its best to break them down into common infections, common antibiotics, and the top antibiotic classes as listed in Drugs.com.
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Okay But What Types Of Cold Medicine Can You Take While Pregnant
Most medicines taken during pregnancy cross the placenta and reach the fetus, so its important to know which ones are safe, and which should be avoidedand what some natural remedies are instead.
The American Pregnancy Association recommends getting plenty of rest , drinking lots of fluids and trying some natural remedies. For instance, to reduce congestion, place a humidifier in your room, elevate your head during rest time, or try nasal strips. To soothe a sore throat, gargle with warm salt water, drink warm tea, or suck on ice chips.
As far as OTC medications go, the APA advises keeping the number to a minimum during pregnancy. Among the safest options for pregnant women are:
- Acetaminophen can work for fevers, headaches, and body aches.
- Expectorants , cough suppressants , vapor rubs , and most cough drops are generally considered safe to help ease a cough.
- Anesthetic throat lozenges can relieve a sore throat.
Cold medicines that you should avoid, however, include:
- Some pain relievers and fever reducers, such as aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen .
- Afrin and other non-steroidal nasal decongestant sprays containing oxymetazoline.
- OTC herbal remedies like Echinacea.
To be on the safe side, always get your cold meds approved by your pharmacist, doctor or midwife. Many docs advise staying away from all medicines during the first trimester.
List Of Antibiotics For Cough
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What Do I Need To Know About Taking Cold And Cough Medicines
Before taking these medicines, read the labels and follow the instructions carefully. Many cold and cough medicines contain the same active ingredients. For example, some of them include pain relievers. If you are taking these medicines and are also taking a separate pain reliever, you could be getting a dangerous amount of the pain reliever.
Do not give cold or cough medicines to children under two, and don’t give aspirin to children.
What Else Can I Do To Feel Better For A Cold Or Cough
If you decide that you don’t want to take cold and cough medicines, there are other ways to feel better:
- Drink lots of fluids
- Use a cool mist humidifier
- Use saline nose drops or sprays
- Use nasal suctioning with a bulb syringe, which can be very helpful in children under a year old
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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How Your Healthcare Provider Chooses
Your healthcare provider will only prescribe antibiotics for bronchitis if they think bacteria are causing your symptoms and youre at high risk of the infection not resolving on its own.
If a virus causes your bronchitis, they wont give you antibiotics because the antibiotics wouldnt do anything. If youre young and generally healthy, they probably wont prescribe anything either.
A Cochrane report last updated in 2017 found little evidence that antibiotics help acute bronchitis in healthy people, but recommended further study for patients that are elderly, frail, or have other conditions that may make bronchitis worse.
When considering treatment, your healthcare provider will look at:
- If youve had an allergic reaction to an antibiotic in the past
- Other health conditions, like autoimmune diseases, heart conditions, and lung conditions like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- Your history with smoking or vaping
- The oxygen levels in your blood
If your practitioner decides to prescribe an antibiotic, the treatment they choose will be based on your medical history, personal details, symptoms, diagnosis, and test results.
Coughs And Colds Treatment Tips
So if antibiotics are off the table, what’s the best way to treat a cold? Sore throats are usually the first sign of a cold. On average they last no more than a week and there is generally no need to consult a doctor. The majority of sore throats are caused by viral infection, with only one in 10 due to bacterial infection.
Opt for over-the-counter remedies, honey and lemon and plenty of bed rest to treat coughs and colds. To ease symptoms, you can also try the following:
Try sucking on a lozenge
Use a lozenge or pastille, available from the pharmacist, to help lubricate and soothe a sore throat.
Gargle salt water or aspirin
Gargling with soluble aspirin is effective for inflamed sore throats.
‘Gargling with salty water also provides some relief because it helps loosen mucus and draws excess fluid out of throat tissue which has become inflamed,’ recommends ear, nose and throat surgeon Alasdair Mace.
Try a warm drink of honey and lemon
In most cases, a sore throat will clear up of its own accord, although the pain can last for around a week. There are a few home remedies which might help. ‘Warm drinks can provide short-lived relief from the pain and discomfort of a throat infection,’ suggests community pharmacist Noel Wicks.
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Antibiotics For Cold And Flu: Do They Work
Our resident pharmacist looks at antibiotic resistance and recommends the best treatments for coughs and colds.
Can’t shake that sore throat? If your cold has been lingering for weeks and you still feel dreadful, you might consider asking your doctor for antibiotics. But do you really need them, and more importantly, will they actually work?
Our resident pharmacist Rita Ghelani looks at the best treatments for cold and flu and when you might need antibiotics:
Upper Respiratory Infection Symptoms
Fever is a rare symptom of the common cold in adults but may be more likely in children.
Symptoms of an upper respiratory infection can last up to two weeks but usually peak at around three days and are gone within seven. Upper respiratory infections should clear up on their own without needing interventions from your healthcare provider.
But complications of colds can occur, including:
- Sinusitis: An infection in your sinuses causing pain and congestion
- Otitis media: An ear infection causing pain
- Pharyngitis: A sore throat, which might be strep throat
- Epiglottitis: An infection and resulting swelling of the epiglottis, a flap of tissue that covers your windpipe, which can interfere with breathing
- Laryngotracheitis: Infection of the larynx , trachea, or bronchi
Some of these complications may require treatment with antibiotics.
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Why Can’t I Take An Antibiotic Just In Case
Aside from the fact that an antibiotic won’t work unless your illness is bacterial in nature, there are significant problems with the unnecessary use of antibiotics.
It also leads births antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains. When bacteria are exposed to an antibiotic, many are killed, but some that are resistant to the drug’s effects usually remain. In other words, the antibiotic kills off the weakest bacteria while the stronger resistant bacteria continue multiplying. With this, the bacteria develop the ability to beat the drugs designed to kill them off.
The eventual result can be superbugsbacteria that become resistant to several types of antibiotics. These are very hard to kill and may only succumb to extremely powerful versions of these drugs. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that at least 2.8 million people are infected by these superbugs every year in the U.S., with at least 35,000 people dying from them.
The powerful antibiotics needed for killing superbugs are much more costly and pose a greater risk of significant adverse effects that may require hospitalization. Some superbugs go on to cause devastating and even fatal infections that are incurable with current antibiotics.
Examples of antibiotic-resistant superbugs include:
- Multidrug-resistant Acinetobacter
Which Antivirals Does The Cdc Recommend
The CDC recommends baloxavir marboxil , oseltamivir , peramivir , and zanamivir for flu. They are most effective when given within 48 hours after symptoms start to appear. These flu drugs can decrease the duration of the flu by one to two days if used within this early time period. Oseltamivir , and zanamivir are usually given for a period of five days to treat the flu. For flu prevention, they are typically used for at least 7 days. In some cases, antivirals may be given for longer periods of time. For prevention of flu, antiviral drugs may be given for at least 7 days. In some cases, antivirals may be given for longer periods of time.
Oseltamivir is approved for treatment in those over 2 weeks of age and for prevention in people ages 3 months and older.
Peramivir, given in one intravenous dose, is approved for people ages 2 and older.
Zanamivir, an inhaled medication, is approved for treatment of people ages 7 and older and for prevention in people ages 5 and older.
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Have The Flu Antibiotics Arent For You
Most of us have tried and true ways we combat flu symptoms, like sipping chicken soup to fight the sore throat and wrapping up in warm blankets to ward off the chills.
Maybe you call your doctor, too. But before you ask for any medications, read about the difference between bacterial and viral infections. What youve caught will determine your treatment.
What About Influenza Complications
In some cases of the flu, severe illness and complications can develop. This can result in hospitalisation and even death.
The flu can also make some existing medical conditions worse.
In Victoria, flu vaccination is free for people with a higher risk of severe complications associated with the flu:
- children aged 6 months to less than 5 years
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from 6 months and over
- pregnant women at any stage of pregnancy
- people 65 years and over
- people aged 6 months and older with medical conditions putting them at higher risk of severe flu and its complications:
- cardiac disease
- children aged 6 months to 10 years on long term aspirin therapy.
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When Antibiotics Are Appropriate
There are only a few situations in which your healthcare provider might prescribe antibiotics when youre dealing with a cold or flu. Usually, these are secondary bacterial infections caused by the cold or flu symptoms that cause issues in the sinuses or other structures of the upper respiratory system.
Antibiotics may be helpful if common cold symptoms last for more than 10 days, the Cochrane report found.
Who Should Get An Annual Flu Shot
The Centers for Disease Control recommends the following groups receive an annual flu vaccine shot between November and February :
- All people aged six months and older.
It is especially important for certain individuals at high risk of flu complications and those who come in contact with people at high risk of complications to receive the flu vaccine. These people at high risk include:
- Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
- People who have chronic medical conditions such as asthma, heart disease, diabetes, kidney and liver disorders and chronic lung diseases.
- People with a weakened immune system, for example, people with cancer, HIV/AIDS, or chronic steroid users.
- Household members and caregivers of patients at risk of complications from the flu.
- Women who are or will be pregnant during the flu season .
- Healthcare workers who come into close contact with patients in hospitals, nursing homes, long-term care facilities, and other healthcare facilities.
- Infants and children ages six months through 18 years who are taking long-term aspirin therapy. This puts these individuals at risk for experiencing Reye syndrome after flu infection.
- American Indians/Alaska natives.
- People who have close contact with children under five years of age for example, people who live with children, nannies and providers of daycare services.
- People who are morbidly obese .
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