Cold and Flu in the Elderly: Treatment

Aug 3, 2016

Cold and Flu in the Elderly: Treatment

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Influenza is a contagious illness that attacks the body in the upper and lower respiratory tract. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the peak of flu season occurs from late November to March.

People who work or spend much of their time in a close setting with groups of people are most likely to catch the illness. This includes those that are in places like schools, offices, nursing homes, and military barracks. The flu might not seem like a serious illness, especially if you are an adolescent or adult, but for children and the elderly especially, the flu can be deadly. Older adults aged 65 and older have an increased risk of developing complications, being hospitalized, or dying from influenza.

Treating Influenza for Older Adults

Of course, your first step to battle influenza should be preventing it, but if you recognize the signs and symptoms of the flu in elderly persons, you should seek medical advice as soon as possible, as they may need a medical evaluation.

There is no real “cure” for the flu other than to get rest and drink plenty of fluids, but there are a number of over-the-counter treatments that will help lessen some of your symptoms. Depending on what you or your senior loved one is experiencing, one or more of these treatment options may work for you.

Before starting any type of treatment, be sure to speak to your senior’s primary care physician for guidance on the safest treatment plan.

Antiviral Flu Drugs

In some cases, a doctor may prescribe antiviral medicines to decrease the duration and symptoms of the flu. Though they may have benefits if taken during later stages of the flu, it works best when taken within 48 hours of your first symptoms. There are side effects, so make sure you talk about them with your doctor if you want to use antiviral flu drugs for your elder loved one’s treatment.

Nasal or Sinus Congestion

A decongestant is helpful in reducing the swelling within the nasal passageways and come in nasal spray or oral forms. If using a nasal spray, it should not be used for more than a few days. If nasal sprays are used for an extended period of time and then stopped, the symptoms may reemerge.

If you have high blood pressure and need a decongestant, be sure to talk to your doctor about safe options. Some decongestants may have a negative reaction with some blood pressure medications.

Runny Noses or Itchy, Watery Eyes

Antihistamines help to relieve the sneezing, itching, and watering eyes that may come along with the flu. OTC antihistamines tend to make people drowsy, which is the opposite effect of decongestants. Be sure to talk to your doctor about the effects of any interaction an OTC drug may have with other drugs you may be taking.


There are numerous kinds of cough medicines available OTC. These cough medicines will have some type of combination of decongestants, antihistamines, cough suppressants, analgesics, and more. Be sure to talk to your doctor to determine which cough medication you can safely take.

Fevers and Body Aches

When taking acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen for fever or pain relief, take caution because many other cold/flu medications already have these drug mixed in. If you don’t know that your flu medication already contains a fever and pain reducer, you may overdose.

Like with all other OTC drugs, you should check with your doctor or pharmacist about possible adverse reactions with other medications or prescriptions that you or your senior loved one is taking.

Sore Throat

To relieve a sore throat, lots of fluids and warm salt-water gargles are methods to reduce your symptoms without med. There also many different over-the-counter throat relief sprays, lozenges, and gargles that will alleviate your older loved one’s symptoms temporarily.

Cold and Flu in the Elderly: Treatment
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