General Information

Influenza (the flu) is caused by a virus. It usually starts suddenly and can be extremely debilitating, especially in those with ongoing medical conditions and in elderly people, although anyone can be badly affected. Influenza can lead to serious complications, such as pneumonia.

Influenza usually lasts about one week, although some symptoms may linger, such as a cough and fatigue. Influenza is thought to spread mainly person to person, through coughing or sneezing of infected people (unlike the cold which is spread by hand to hand contact).

People tend to get the flu in winter, and people who have a ‘common cold’ may think they have the flu, but the flu usually causes extra symptoms such as a fever, and joint aches and pains. Some comparisons are given below.

Symptoms of influenza

  • a high fever (39 to 40°C); this is rare with a common cold
  • muscle and joint aches and pains; these are unusual with a common cold
  • extreme tiredness and weakness, which is much more severe than with a common cold; people with the flu often say they can barely move and need to stay in bed
  • severe headache; this may occur with a cold, but is usually mild
  • painful, red or watery eyes
  • a cough; usually dry, or non-productive (not coughing up phlegm)
  • a sore throat and runny or blocked nose

Influenza vaccination

An influenza vaccination is available each year in the autumn; contact your doctor or health clinic. Each year the vaccine changes to cover the most common types of influenza virus circulating for that season, so an annual vaccination is usually recommended.

The vaccine is available free each year for some people (e.g. those over 65 years, people under 65 years with certain medical conditions and pregnant women).

The flu vaccine does not cause the flu as it is not a ‘live’ vaccine, though it may cause a fever, headache or tiredness.

See Your Pharmacist or Medical Professional

Seek urgent medical advice if you or the person you are caring for:

  • has difficulty breathing or chest pain
  • has purple or blue discolouration of the lips
  • is vomiting and unable to keep liquids down
  • has a skin rash, neck stiffness or aching muscles
  • has a severe headache or sensitivity to light
  • has blood stained sputum when coughing
  • has signs of dehydration such as drowsiness, increased thirst, dry skin, absence of urination, or in infants, a lack of tears when they cry
  • has seizures (for example, uncontrolled convulsions)
  • is less responsive than normal or becomes confused

Speak to your pharmacist or medical professional:

  • if the person with flu is under 12 years old, or elderly
  • if you have a very high fever (39°C or above)
  • if you are vomiting or have diarrhoea
  • if you are not eating or drinking
  • if your symptoms have not improved in two days or have not completely disappeared after one week
  • if your cough is productive, with coloured mucus or phlegm
  • if you have recently travelled overseas
  • if you have a medical condition, such as high blood pressure
  • if you take other medicines; sometimes flu symptoms may indicate a serious side effect of a medicine
  • if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, as you may need to avoid certain medicines; check with your pharmacist

Treatment Tips

  • take your temperature every four to six hours
  • drink plenty of clear fluids (such as water, broth, electrolyte beverages especially for infants) to keep from being dehydrated
  • stay home if you get sick, preferably in bed, for a few days to let your body recover (some people will need longer to recover)
  • influenza is contagious, so limit contact with others and do not go to work or send children to school until you or they have been symptom-free for at least 24 hours
  • cover your nose and mouth with a tissue rather than a handkerchief when you cough or sneeze, and discard tissues in the rubbish after a single use
  • wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand gels are also effective
  • avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth since germs are easily spread that way

Treatment Options

  • some flu medicines relieve symptoms and others stop the flu virus becoming worse
  • only take combination treatments which contain medicines that treat the symptoms you have
  • cold and flu medicines can have the same ingredients as cough mixtures and pain relievers, so always check ingredients to avoid double dosing

Oral pain relievers (analgesics); also for treating fever

[GENERAL SALE]
e.g. paracetamol tablets (Panadol tablets [packets of 20 or fewer], Panadol Mini Caps Tablets [packets of 20 or fewer], Panadol (Children) 7+ Years Soluble Tablets, Panadol Optizorb Caplets/Tablets [packets of up to 20], Panadol Rapid Caplets [packets of up to 20], Panadol Rapid Soluble tablets), paracetamol sachets (Lemsip Max, Lemsip Cold & Flu, Panadol Cold & Flu (Max) Hot Lemon Powder)

[PHARMACY ONLY]
e.g. paracetamol tablets (Panadol [larger pack sizes], Panamax, Panadol (Children) 3+ Years Chewable Tablets, Panadol Optizorb Caplets/Tablets [larger pack sizes], Panadol Rapid Caplets [larger pack sizes]); paracetamol liquid preparations (Dymadon Suspension, Panadol (Children) Liquid Formulations, Panamax Elixir)

  • paracetamol is a safe choice for most people but it is important not to take more than recommended
  • paracetamol is an ingredient in many cold and flu remedies, so be careful not to double dose if taking more than one product
  • the maximum daily dose for an adult is 4 g (4000 mg), and no more than 1 g (1000 mg) every four hours.
  • see manufacturer’s directions for children’s doses (dose by weight for children)

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and aspirin

[GENERAL SALE]
e.g. aspirin (Aspro range, Disprin range, Alka-Seltzer Effervescent tablets), ibuprofen (Nurofen Tablets/Caplets/Liquid Capsules [smaller packs], Nurofen Zavance [packets of 24 or fewer], Advil Tablets, Advil Liquid Capsules [smaller packs])

[PHARMACY ONLY]
e.g. ibuprofen (Nurofen Tablets/Caplets/Liquid Capsules [larger pack sizes], Nurofen Zavance [larger pack sizes], Advil Childrens Chewable Tablets, Advil Liquid Capsules [larger pack sizes]); ibuprofen suspension (Advil Childrens/Infants Pain & Fever Relief Oral suspension, Dimetapp Children’s/Infant’s Pain & Fever Relief Ibuprofen Oral Suspension, Nurofen for Children); aspirin (Solprin Tablets)

  • paracetamol, aspirin and NSAIDs relieve pain and reduce fever (high temperature)
  • take regularly, usually every four to six hours (check product dosage), while you are ill
  • paracetamol and NSAIDs can be used together as they work differently (they are usually given at different times; ask your pharmacist for dosing advice)
  • see manufacturer’s directions for children’s doses (dose by weight for children)

Aspirin and NSAIDs are not suitable for everyone. Children and teenagers should not take aspirin because it can cause Reye’s syndrome, a serious condition.

Check with your pharmacist before taking aspirin or NSAIDs if you:

  • have a history of stomach problems, such as ulcers or indigestion
  • have asthma; some people with asthma find their condition is made worse by these types of medicines
  • have kidney problems or a heart condition
  • take other medications
  • have an allergy to aspirin or NSAIDs
  • are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • are dehydrated

Sometimes aspirin and NSAIDs can cause side effects. It is important to take these products after eating and with a glass of water to minimise heartburn. If you develop indigestion, or unusual or increased bleeding or bruising, stop taking them and talk to your pharmacist.

Liquid cough suppressants (antitussives)

[GENERAL SALE]

e.g. pentoxyverine (Nyal Dry Cough Medicine Oral liquid)

[PHARMACY ONLY]
e.g. pholcodine (Duro-Tuss Dry Cough Liquid Regular and Forte, Benadryl Dry, Tickly Cough Oral liquid Regular and Forte), dextromethorphan (Robitussin Dry Cough Forte Oral liquid, Bisolvon Dry Oral Liquid)

[PHARMACIST ONLY]
e.g. dihydrocodeine (Rikodeine Oral Liquid)

  • cough suppressants are best to stop a dry, irritating cough; they should not be used for a chesty cough
  • pholcodine or dextromethorphan are the main cough suppressants included in cough medicines, cold and flu tablets or lozenges
  • if you are taking cold and flu tablets check whether they contain a cough suppressant before taking a cough medicine
  • products containing dextromethorphan may interact with other medicines; check with your pharmacist

Combination products

  • these products treat a range of symptoms
  • ingredients may include:
    • cough suppressants
    • antihistamines to stop a runny nose or cough
    • nasal decongestants to unblock your nose (e.g. pseudoephedrine, phenylephrine)
    • analgesics (pain relievers)
  • people who take other medicines or have other medical conditions may be unable to take cold and flu tablets; check with your pharmacist
  • some nasal decongestants may cause insomnia and restlessness
  • antihistamines in cold, flu and cough medicines may cause drowsiness; do not drive when taking them
  • note the warnings below relating to individual ingredients

Decongestant + analgesic(s)

[GENERAL SALE]
e.g. Panadol Cold & Flu + Decongestant Caplets, Panadol Cold & Flu Max + Decongestant Hot Lemon, Nurofen Cold and Flu PE Tablets [24 pack], Nurofen Sinus Pain PE Tablets, Sudafed PE Sinus + Pain Relief, Dimetapp Multi Symptom Cold & Flu Capsules, Lemsip Max Cold and Flu with Decongestant

[PHARMACY ONLY]
e.g. Dimetapp PE Sinus Pain Tablets, Nurofen Cold and Flu PE Tablets [48 pack]

[PHARMACIST ONLY]*
e.g. Nurofen Cold and Flu with Decongestant Tablets, Panadol Sinus Relief Original Formula, Sudafed Sinus + Anti-inflammatory Pain Relief Caplets, Sudafed Sinus + Pain Relief Tablets

  • customers may be asked for identification as part of regulatory requirements and/or the Project Stop program before supply of pseudoephedrine. This is to stop diversion of these tablets into illicit substances*

[PRESCRIPTION ONLY FROM 1 FEBRUARY 2018]
e.g. Codral Original Cold & Flu Tablets (contain codeine)

Decongestant + analgesic + cough suppressant

[PHARMACY ONLY]
e.g. Panadol Cold & Flu Relief + Cough Tablets

[PHARMACIST ONLY]
e.g. Demazin Cough Cold and Flu Tablets, Dimetapp PSE Cough, Cold & Flu Day Relief Liquid Caps

Decongestant + expectorant

[GENERAL SALE]
e.g. Robitussin Chesty Cough & Nasal Congestion PE Oral liquid, Robitussin Cold & Chesty Cough Oral liquid

[PHARMACY ONLY]
e.g. Benadryl PE Chesty Cough & Nasal Congestion

[PHARMACIST ONLY]*
e.g. Robitussin Chesty Cough & Nasal Congestion PS Oral Liquid

  • customers may be asked for identification as part of regulatory requirements and/or the Project Stop program before supply of pseudoephedrine. This is to stop diversion of these tablets into illicit substances*

Decongestant + analgesic + antihistamine

[PHARMACY ONLY]
e.g. Dimetapp PE Sinus Day + Night Tablets, Sudafed PE Sinus + Allergy & Pain Relief Tablets, Sudafed PE Sinus + Pain Relief Day & Night Tablets, Panadol Cold & Flu Night Relief PE Caplets

[PHARMACIST ONLY]*
e.g. Demazin Cold and Flu TabletsSudafed Sinus + Pain Relief Day & Night Tablets, Sudafed Sinus + Allergy & Pain Relief Tablets

[PRESCRIPTION ONLY FROM 1 FEBRUARY 2018]
e.g. Codral Original Day & Night Cold & Flu Tablets (contain codeine)

  • customers may be asked for identification as part of regulatory requirements and/or the Project Stop program before supply of pseudoephedrine. This is to stop diversion of these tablets into illicit substances*

Decongestant + analgesic + antihistamine + cough suppressant

[PHARMACY ONLY]
e.g. Dimetapp Cough Cold & Flu Decongestant Day & Night Liquid Caps

[PHARMACIST ONLY]*
e.g. Codral Original Cold & Flu + Cough Day & Night Capsules, Dimetapp PSE Cough Cold & Flu Night Relief Liquid Caps, Logicin Flu Strength Day & Night Tablets

  • customers may be asked for identification as part of regulatory requirements and/or the Project Stop program before supply of pseudoephedrine. This is to stop diversion of these tablets into illicit substances*

Decongestant + antihistamine + cough suppressant

[PHARMACY ONLY]
e.g. Demazin Cough & Cold Relief syrup, Dimetapp Kids 6 Years & Over Cough & Cold Oral liquid

Lozenges

[GENERAL SALE]
e.g. Difflam Plus Sore Throat Lozenges + Anaesthetic, Difflam Sore Throat Sugar Free Lozenges, Strepsils, Strepsils Cool, Strepsils Numbing, Strepsils Sore Throat & Blocked Nose

[PHARMACY ONLY]
e.g. Difflam Plus Sore Throat + Cough Lozenges, Duro-Tuss Dry Cough Lozenges, Strepfen Intensive

  • these contain a range of ingredients, including antibacterial agents to prevent bacterial infection, local anaesthetics to numb your throat or local anti-inflammatories to relieve pain and reduce redness
  • if you are allergic to local anaesthetic check with your pharmacist
  • local anaesthetics numb your mouth so be careful when having hot food or drinks
  • avoid use during pregnancy or in young children

Antiviral agents

[PRESCRIPTION ONLY]
e.g. oseltamivir (Tamiflu), zanamivir (Relenza)

  • these medicines help prevent the flu virus spreading in your body
  • they may reduce the severity of symptoms
  • they can speed recovery, if they are taken early enough
  • they are not recommended for the routine prevention of influenza (flu vaccination is used for this purpose)

More Information

Availability of medicines

  • GENERAL SALE available through pharmacies and possibly other retail outlets.
  • PHARMACY ONLY available for sale through pharmacies only.
  • PHARMACIST ONLY may only be sold by a pharmacist.
  • PRESCRIPTION ONLY available only with a doctor’s prescription.

*Pseudoephedrine products may not be available at all pharmacies.

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Last Reviewed: 25/09/2009

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