Usually, you can manage flu symptoms yourself at home and there's no need to see a GP. Most people feel better within a week.
You should consider seeing your GP if you're at a higher risk of becoming more seriously ill. This includes people who:
- are 65 or over
- are pregnant
- have a lung, heart, kidney, liver or neurological disease
- have a weakened immune system
- have diabetes
In these cases, your GP may suggest taking antiviral medication.
Managing your symptoms at home
If you're otherwise healthy, you can look after yourself at home by resting, keeping warm and drinking plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
If you feel unwell and have a fever, you can take paracetamol or anti-inflammatory medicines such as ibuprofen to lower your temperature and relieve aches. Children under 16 shouldn't be given aspirin.
Stay off work or school until you're feeling better. For most people, this will take about a week. See your GP if your symptoms get worse or last longer than a week.
Read the page on preventing flu for more information about stopping the infection spreading to others.
In 2009, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommended that doctors should consider treating people in the at-risk groups mentioned above with the antiviral medications oseltamivir (Tamiflu) or zanamivir (Relenza) to reduce the risk of complications of flu.
Antivirals work by stopping the flu virus from multiplying in the body. They won't cure flu, but they may help slightly reduce the length of the illness and relieve some of the symptoms.
Recent research has suggested that Tamiflu and Relenza may not be effective at reducing the risk of flu complications and could cause side effects, so not all doctors agree they should be used.
But there is evidence that antivirals can reduce the risk of death in patients hospitalised with flu. In the light of this evidence, Public Health England says it is important that doctors treating severely unwell patients or those at risk of being severely unwell continue to prescribe these drugs where appropriate.
For more information, read Effectiveness of Tamiflu and Relenza questioned and the NICE guidelines on antivirals to treat influenza.
Antibiotics aren't prescribed for flu as they have no effect on viruses, although they may be prescribed if you develop a complication of flu, such as a bacterial chest infection.