Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

Colds and flu medication

Colds and flu medication
beginning of content

Colds and flu medication

4-minute read

Over-the-counter medicines

There are a number of over-the-counter medicines that might help relieve cold and flu symptoms. These include:

Paracetamol for pain and fever

Paracetamol can be used for adults and children over 1 month for pain and symptoms of fever. Make sure you’ve got the right strength for your child’s age and weight as overdosing can be dangerous.

Read and follow the directions on the label carefully. If you are not sure check with your doctor or pharmacist.

Ibuprofen for pain and fever

Ibuprofen can be given for pain and symptoms of fever in adults and children of 3 months and over, according to their weight. Make sure you’ve got the right strength for your child’s age and weight as overdosing can be dangerous.

Read and follow the directions on the label carefully. If you are not sure check with your doctor or pharmacist. Avoid ibuprofen if your child has asthma, unless advised by your doctor.

Decongestants and saline nasal sprays or drops to relieve a blocked nose

Nasal decongestants and saline (salt water) nasal sprays can help to relieve a blocked nose, but should not be used for more than 4 or 5 days in a row.

Medicated nasal decongestants must not be used in babies younger than 6 months.

Decongestants containing pseudoephedrine, phenylephrine, oxymetazoline or xylometazoline must not be used in children younger than 6 years. Use salt water (saline) nasal sprays or drops instead of a nasal decongestant for these children. Before using a decongestant, check with your doctor or pharmacist if it is safe for you or your child.

Combination ‘cough and cold’ medicines

Cough and cold medicines are often used for symptom relief however it’s important to know there is not enough evidence showing they work well, particularly in children.

Cough and cold medicines are not recommended for children under 6. You should ask a doctor, pharmacist or nurse practitioner for advice before giving cough and cold medicines to children aged 6-11 years.

Cough and cold medicines often contain paracetamol, so it is important to check the label to avoid ‘doubling up’ and taking other medicines that also contain paracetamol.

Complementary medicines

Some people find vitamins (for example vitamin C), mineral supplements (for example zinc) or herbal medicines (for example echinacea) helpful. However, there is not enough evidence to show they are effective in helping to treat or prevent colds and flu.

Antiviral medications

If you are likely to suffer complications from the flu, your doctor may prescribe antiviral medication. These medicines won’t cure the flu, but if they are taken within 48 hours of symptoms they can help to:

  • reduce the length of time you are ill by around 1 day
  • relieve some of the symptoms
  • reduce the potential for serious complications

They do this by stopping the virus from multiplying in your body. Talk to your doctor to see if antiviral medications are right for you.

Antibiotics

Antibiotics won’t cure a cold or flu. Antibiotics won’t help the symptoms of a cold or flu or stop them from spreading to other people. This is because they are viral infections and antibiotics are only effective against bacterial infections.

Some people occasionally can get a bacterial infection as a complication of a cold or flu. This kind of infection is not common and most people will get better by themselves without antibiotics. If you are at more risk of complications or may get very sick, then your doctor may give you antibiotics. Talk to your doctor to see if antibiotics are right for you.

For advice on medicines call the NPS MedicineWise information line on 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424).

Learn about some other things you can do to relieve cold or flu symptoms.

See a doctor if you are concerned about your symptoms. If you would like to speak to a registered nurse, call healthdirect on 1800 022 222, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Not sure what to do next?

If you are still concerned about your cold or flu, why not use healthdirect's online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.

The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it's self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).

Last reviewed: May 2018

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Cold and flu

The common cold is not the same as flu (influenza). Find out more about cold and flu, including symptoms, treatment and prevention.

Read more on WA Health website

Cold and Flu: Natural Remedies | myVMC

When you have a cold or flu, symptoms like coughs and sniffles are annoying and can leave you feeling pretty miserable. But you'll find many cold and flu can be temporarily relieved using natural remedies.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Influenza virus (flu) treatment information video | myVMC

There is no treatment for influenza infection. Flu symptoms like headache, fever and sore throat can be relieved with cold and flu medicines and bed rest.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Colds and flu in babies and children

Here is information on the causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatments of coughs, colds and flu in children and babies and when to seek medical advice.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Treating cold and flu symptoms with medication | myVMC

Cold and flu treatments for individual symptoms like cough medicine, pain killers and nasal sprays are recommended instead of cold and flu tablets which treat multiple symptoms.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Influenza (the flu) - National Asthma Council Australia

What is Influenza?Influenza, commonly known as the flu', is an illness caused when an influenza virus infects the respiratory tract your nos

Read more on National Asthma Council Australia website

Cold and flu during pregnancy

When you are pregnant you need to be careful how you treat cold or flu as it can effect your unborn baby and if you are considering pregnancy or are already pregnant, it is recommended that you have the flu vaccination to help protect you and your baby.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Colds and flu - An Asthma Australia site

Up to date information about how flu affects asthma

Read more on Asthma Australia website

Cold and Flu | myVMC

Winter brings with it the dreaded season for colds and flus. Influenza is an acute respiratory illness caused by the influenza viruses, which can be classified as type A, B, or C. The common cold is usually caused by rhinoviruses.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Nasal sprays and washes for cold and flu | myVMC

Nasal irrigation (washing the nasal cavity with fluid) can be used to remedy cold and flu symptoms like a blocked nose and is usually used in conjunction with other cold and flu remedies or treatments.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice and information you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo
Feedback