Flu Treatment on the NHS – What You Need to Know


The flu can be an unpleasant illness that causes fever, chills, muscle aches, cough, headache, tiredness, and a runny or stuffy nose. While most healthy people are able to recover at home without medical treatment, the flu can sometimes lead to serious complications like pneumonia, particularly in high-risk groups like the elderly, pregnant women, young children, and those with chronic medical conditions. For these individuals, accessing prompt and effective flu treatment on the NHS is especially important. This article will provide an overview of the flu treatment options available through the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK.

Self-Care Flu Treatments

The NHS recommends several self-care measures you can take at home to relieve flu symptoms and speed recovery. These include:

  • Resting – Take time off work or school and scale back on strenuous activity to allow your body to heal. Sleep and naps help the body regain strength.
  • Drinking plenty of fluids – Dehydration is common with the flu. Drink water, broths, or electrolyte-rich sports drinks. Avoid alcohol which can further dehydrate you.
  • Over-the-counter medications – Pain relievers like paracetamol or ibuprofen can lower fever and relieve body aches. Decongestants and cough syrups can ease congestion and coughing.
  • Staying warm – Fevers cause chills. Bundling up in blankets and dressing warmly helps raise body temperature back to normal.
  • Throat lozenges – Sore throat is a common flu symptom. Lozenges provide soothing relief and help ease coughs.

When to See Your GP

If self-care isn’t providing relief or your symptoms rapidly worsen, it’s important to contact your GP. They can provide prescriptions and advice for managing more severe flu symptoms. Emergency flu treatment may be needed if you experience:

  • High fever >39°C
  • Chest pain or difficulty breathing
  • Signs of dehydration like dizziness or inability to keep liquids down
  • Flu symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough

Your GP can rule out complications like pneumonia and may prescribe antiviral flu medications if warranted. Those at high risk of flu complications should seek medical attention promptly when flu symptoms first start.

Prescription Flu Medications

If diagnosed early, antiviral medications like oseltamivir (Tamiflu) or zanamivir (Relenza) can reduce flu severity and duration. They prevent the virus from multiplying and work best if started within 2 days of symptom onset. Antivirals are typically prescribed for those at high risk of complications.

The NHS may also prescribe antibiotics if secondary bacterial infections like sinusitis, bronchitis or pneumonia develop. Codeine-based cough syrups can control severe coughing. Rehydration salts or IV fluids can help overcome dehydration. Doctors may recommend over-the-counter medications too for fever control and body aches.

Preventing the Flu

Getting an annual flu shot is the best way to avoid getting sick with the flu. The NHS provides free flu vaccines to those most vulnerable to complications including:

  • Adults over age 50
  • Those with chronic conditions like asthma, diabetes, heart or kidney disease
  • Pregnant women
  • Children aged 2-3

Flu vaccines are safe, effective and typically protect against the main circulating flu strains expected in a given flu season. Good hygiene like washing hands frequently, coughing into your elbow, and avoiding people who are sick also helps stop the spread of flu viruses.


While most flu cases resolve unaided at home, it’s important to monitor symptoms and promptly seek medical care if you are at high risk for complications or experience severe symptoms. Your NHS doctor can provide testing, prescriptions, and treatment advice to help relieve symptoms and prevent dangerous complications. Getting your annual flu shot remains the best approach for staying protected.

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