The flu can be a vicious beast. You feel fine one day, then the next day you wake up with a fever, chills, headache, a sore throat, and a dry cough. Obviously, these symptoms could have you reaching for over-the-counter meds. However, it's important to recognize signs that your flu medicine isn't working. While you likely know that antibiotics don't do anything to relieve the flu (because the flu is viral and not bacterial), many OTC meds can relieve your symptoms so you feel less like a dish rag. If you act fast, some antiviral medications like Tamiflu can knock a few days off of your flu fiasco, but only if you take them within the first 48 hours, according to USA Today.
A few flu-free days might sound like a dream, but if you're an otherwise healthy person, you might want to skip antiviral meds because some of the side effects can make you feel worse, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. "The most common side effects of Tamiflu are nausea and vomiting. Usually, nausea and vomiting are not severe and happen in the first [two] days of treatment," the FDA reported. "Taking Tamiflu with food may lessen the chance of getting these side effects. Other side effects include stomach (abdominal) pain, nosebleeds, headache, and feeling tired (fatigue)." If you opt for OTC meds instead, but you're not feeling better, there are signs that your flu medicine isn't working, and this could be mean what you have is more serious than just the flu.
1. You Start To Feel Worse Instead Of Better
While OTC meds won't help the flu leave your body any faster, they should relieve some of your symptoms so your Netflix marathon and chicken-soup diet during your quarantine is a little more fun. WebMD recommends fever reducers, antihistamines, decongestants, and cough medicines to reduce your symptoms. However, even if you do feel better you should still stay home. If these medications don't relive your symptoms, you start to feel worse, or develop new symptoms such as a cough with phlegm or pus, difficulty breathing, or unrelenting fatigue, it might be time for a trip to the doctor to make sure it's not something more serious like pneumonia.
2. Your Fever Isn't Going Away
Most people who have the flu develop a of fever up to 100 degrees, according to WebMD. Your fever should subside within two-to-three days. If you're taking a fever reducer, like Tylenol, and your fever isn't going away, or it surpasses 100 degrees, WebMD recommends a trip to the doctor.
3. There's No Change In Your Symptoms
While it's not a cure, most OTC meds should make you feel better. However, WebMD reports that there are some things that can make your medicine less effective, like herbal remedies. For example, St. John's Wort can block the effect of oral contraception, ABC News reported. Other herbs can do the same thing to your flu meds. "Check with your doctor before trying one, because they may change the way your other medications work," WedMD advised. "Always tell your doctor about everything you’re taking, whether it’s prescription or not."
4. You Have A Chronic Illness That Gets Worse
For people with underlying illnesses, like autoimmune disorders, the flu can be more dangerous than it is for the general population. This is why it's important for everyone to get the flu shot to create herd immunity, which protects vulnerable populations. If you have another health condition, your flu medicine isn't working, and the symptoms of your other illness intensify, it's time to see the doctor and get antiviral meds. "People considered to be at high risk for complications include hospitalized patients; patients with severe or progressive illnesses; cancer patients, HIV patients and those with compromised immune systems; nursing home or health facility residents; children five years old and younger; adults 65 and older; women who are pregnant or within two weeks postpartum; and people with asthma, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and serious disorders," CNN reported.
5. You Start To Have Severe Stomach Pain
Maybe your first dose of OTC meds doesn't make you feel better so you decide to take more before the second recommended dosage time. Please don't do this. If you've already double dosed, and you develop severe stomach pain, which can be a sign of bleeding of the stomach lining, according to MD Magazine, it's time to see the doctor. "So double dosing, taking more than one medication with the same active ingredient, is easy to do if the patient is not aware of what’s in the medications or it hasn’t been explained to them, and it can lead to serious health consequences. It can have effects on the liver, when taking in not the proper prescribed dosage," explained Carman Ciervo, DO, Chief Physician Executive at Jefferson Health, New Jersey. The last thing you want when trying to get over one illness is trigger another, so please follow the dosing directions for all medications.
6. You Can't Get Out Of Bed
It's normal to feel tired and achey when you have the flu. However, if you've taken your OTC meds, and you're still so tired you can't get out of bed, it could be something more serious, Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious-disease specialist and a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told Live Science. He added that it's important to track your symptoms. If you're not feeling better in a few days, or you start to feel worse, it's time to visit the doctor. If you can't get to the doctor, Dr. Adalja suggested calling and describing your symptoms. You can also use a health app to speak to a doctor virtually.
7. You're Still Coughing Like Phoebe On Friends
One of the most unpleasant symptoms of the flu is persistent dry cough, and many people reach for the OTC cough medicine to try to keep their hacking at bay. If your cough medicine isn't working it might be because there is no evidence that cough medicines actually work, according to WebMD. "We've never had good evidence that cough suppressants and expectorants help with cough," Norman Edelman, MD, senior scientific advisor at the American Lung Association, told WebMD. "But people are desperate to get some relief. They're so convinced that they should work that they buy them anyway." If your cough medicine has let you down, there's nothing to worry about unless you have difficulty breathing and are coughing up excessive phlegm and puss. Honey, hot water, and lemon, or honey and tea can help make your cough more bearable when your cough syrup fails.
8. The Bottom Line? You're Probably Going To Be Fine
There is so much to know about this devil flu season, but if you keep a few things in mind you can survive it like a boss. Stay home if you're sick, wash your hands like a surgeon, get your flu shot if you don't already have the flu, and see your doctor if you have trouble breathing, a high fever that won't go away, or a chronic medical condition that gets worse while you're sick with the flu. Other than that, get some chicken soup and hunker down with Gilmore Girls. By the time you're done watching all seven seasons you should start feeling better.