Fat cold or flu? Protection against infection
In the cold season, many people are sick - some think a harmless infection. But be careful: the influenza season is currently high. Experts explain how to tell the difference between a cold and the flu and how to protect yourself from infection.
Many people are sick in the cold season
Runny nose, sore throat, runny nose, fever: it is not uncommon to catch an infection in wet and cold weather. Because the symptoms are similar, it is not entirely clear to some people whether they suffer from a "simple" cold or flu. Dr. Wolfgang Reuter, health expert at DKV Deutsche Krankenversicherung, explains the difference between the illnesses in a consumer information. There are also tips on how to avoid contagion, what strengthens the immune system and what helps those affected in an emergency.
Difference between cold and flu
"It is not always easy to differentiate between a cold and influenza," says Dr. Reuter.
You can tell whether you have the flu or an influenza infection, among other things, by how quickly the symptoms develop, because a real flu occurs suddenly. In addition, symptoms such as fatigue and fatigue are usually more intense.
Influenza usually hits the body with full force. Cough, chills, headache and high fever - often over 40 degrees - are also indications of influenza.
Older people, children and people with a serious underlying illness, such as the cardiovascular system, should then definitely consult a doctor. Even if the symptoms are not clear.
"Both colds and the real flu are usually transmitted via droplet infection," explains the DKV expert. "This means that the viruses pass from person to person when they cough, sneeze or speak."
In order to protect yourself from infection, it is generally a good idea to keep away from the sick. And those who are already ill or particularly susceptible to infection should avoid crowds wherever possible.
These include, for example, fully occupied buses, trains or elevators. Above all, proper hygiene is the be-all and end-all during the cold period, because viruses can also spread to doorknobs, keyboards or handles, for example in stairwells.
If the hand moves from there to the nose or mouth, it can happen quickly. "Frequent, thorough hand washing is an important preventive measure," emphasizes the health expert.
"Likewise, the hands should stay away from the face, especially from the mucous membranes on the mouth and nose." It is advisable to avoid shaking hands and hugs during a flu or cold wave.
Strengthening the body's defenses: fresh air and warm clothing
The best protection against an infection is a good, resilient immune system. In order to strengthen your own defenses, it is advisable right now to pay attention to a healthy, vitamin-rich diet, sufficient exercise and enough sleep.
“If you want to stand up to the pathogens, dress warmly because freezing weakens the immune system,” advises Dr. Reuter. Saunas and changing showers can also help to strengthen the immune system.
The mucous membranes only offer protection against infection as long as they do not dry out. Therefore, the viruses have an easy time with dry heating air.
"Regular ventilation at home and at work is therefore also a good idea in winter," says the DKV expert. Humidifiers can also help prevent the mucous membranes from drying out.
What helps if I get infected?
If you get caught despite protective measures, the main thing to take care of yourself for flu and colds is to drink a lot and to stay in bed for a few days.
Most infections heal on their own: As a rule, colds peak after two or three days, and the worst should be over after about a week.
Those affected should best lie warmly wrapped up in bed or on the sofa and drink two to three liters of water or herbal tea a day.
The complaints can be alleviated with the classic home remedies. There are some things that really help with colds.
A pack of chopped onions, for example, helps with ear pain. A hot chicken soup improves well-being, and its steam also lets the secretions flow out of the airways.
Gargling with an infusion of sage, wild mallow or chamomile has a beneficial effect on hoarseness and sore throat, while on the other hand cough has been proven by thyme and ribwort.
Do not use nasal sprays too often
When the nose is blocked, some patients quickly use nasal sprays, but many experts believe that such sprays often do less than many simple home remedies for colds, such as inhalations.
Some doctors even point out that such agents favor a stuffy nose. If you use them anyway, you should not do this for too long, otherwise you will get used to it.
Cardiac patients should be particularly careful because some sprays can affect blood pressure.
As an alternative, do nasal irrigation instead of nasal sprays. Or homemade nose drops.
There are also a number of over-the-counter cold remedies in the pharmacy, but they only fight the symptoms: the cause itself, i.e. the viruses, can only defeat the body's immune system - and that takes time.
In the case of high fever, severe pain or if the symptoms do not subside after seven days, a visit to the doctor is advisable.
The additional intake of vitamin C for colds is useless. According to scientific knowledge, such preparations have no influence on the symptoms and the duration of the disease.
Can antibiotics help?
Important to know: Antibiotics usually do nothing for colds or flu because: “Antibiotics only help against bacteria. Viruses and colds are mostly the culprits, ”explains Dr. Reuter.
However, bacteria can spread to a viral infection - a so-called superinfection. Those affected by a bacterial superinfection usually have purulent runny nose, suppurated tonsils, fever, greenish-yellow sputum or shortness of breath.
In addition, there may be a fever and severe headache and body aches, the symptoms resemble real flu.
In the case of such an infection, antibiotics can make sense. Patients should then have it clarified exactly whether and which preparation is used. (ad)