Your nose is running, swallowing hurts, your arms and legs feel heavy: this is exactly how many people feel right now. There is no one miracle cure for infections. But there are things we can do to help us get through a cold better.

I notice a sore throat – what is the best thing to do now? Can I still stop all this?

If you have a cold, “you should try to stay warm and get enough sleep,” advises Uwe Popert. He is a representative of the Family Practice Section of the German Society of General Medicine and Family Medicine.

Perhaps you also belong to the faction “Get as many vitamins as possible into your body as quickly as possible!” – in hopes of stopping the infection. “There are various studies that show whether large amounts of vitamin C help,” says Popert. “At least taking high doses of pills is not beneficial.” What never hurts: A balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables.

“If you’re feeling exhausted, weak, tired, overwhelmed, you shouldn’t just keep going, you should slow down.”

Ivo Grebe, family doctor

And even if we don’t like the infection at all, we must admit that it exists – and pay attention to the body’s signals. “If you feel exhausted, weak, tired, overwhelmed – then you should not just keep walking, but rather slow down,” says Ivo Grebe, family doctor in Aachen.

Can I determine if it is a cold, flu or corona infection?

It’s unlikely that it’s possible to clearly distinguish between colds, flu and Covid based on symptoms alone, but there are some clues.

If the infection is accompanied by gastrointestinal complaints and headaches, the Pirola variant of coronavirus may be behind it. “And if there is a sudden onset – with high fever, severe fatigue – this could be the beginning of an influenza infection,” says Uwe Popert. Currently, influenza does not play a major role in the infectious process – at the end of November. The flu epidemic usually begins in January.

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Despite the fact that after the pandemic, we have all become more interested in what virus our immune system is currently fighting: for doctors, this information, according to Popert, is relatively irrelevant. Because: None of these viruses can be cured with medication.

The only exception: antiviral drugs, which can be used at the onset of a corona infection in high-risk patients and are intended to prevent severe illness. However, their use must be carefully considered.

Otherwise: “All available cold remedies ultimately serve only to relieve subjective symptoms and disorders,” says Ivo Grebe. The tablets ensure that your throat will hurt less when swallowing. Painkiller relieves pain in the limbs. “But this does not shorten the course of the disease,” explains the doctor.

What do I need to know if I take a coronavirus self-test now?

Something to keep in mind when dealing with kits that have been sitting in boxes for many months: “They have an expiration date. And storage can also affect them: if the test was carried out, for example, on a heater or in the sun, I would not vouch for it.” The result is correct,” says Uwe Popert.

And, of course, the following remains true: when you first scratch your throat, not enough virus components are released to color the second strip on the test cassette. “It will take two to three days for you to get a positive self-test result,” says Popert.

What helps against the symptoms?

Waiting and drinking tea is the beginning. Or another drink. Providing the body with enough fluid is essential during an infection. For several reasons, as Ivo Grebe explains: “This reduces the viral load in the nasopharynx. In addition, the body is now more vulnerable and converts more fluid.”

If your body hurts, you can take painkillers. However, if you have stomach problems, it is best to avoid painkillers such as ibuprofen or ACC (acetylsalicylic acid). “Paracetamol reduces stress on the stomach,” says Uwe Popert.

Inhalation may be beneficial. Popert says there hasn’t been enough research yet into which supplements—such as essential oils—work best. So if you’re leaning over a pot of warm water with a towel over your head, it’s best to decide based on personal preference whether or not to add what. “If you think chamomile steam is more enjoyable than pure steam, you should definitely choose it.”

What helps us sleep better?

When you have a cold, many bedside tables have a nasal spray to help you breathe through your nose at night. “However, I recommend a children’s nasal spray,” says Popert. Adult medications have higher doses. Although this works well to clear the nose, it causes more damage to the nasal lining if used for more than a week.

“Hot milk with honey is actually a research-proven remedy that does not help coughs.”

Uwe Popert, family physician of the German Society of General and Family Medicine

Otherwise, you can rinse your nose with a saline solution before going to bed. “If you make it yourself, please don’t make it saltier than seawater. Because it can cause nosebleeds,” warns Popert. If you dissolve one or two teaspoons of table salt in a liter of water, you are safe.

What about cough? “Hot milk with honey is actually a research-proven remedy that does not help coughs,” says Popert.

I go from one infection to another – am I immunocompromised?

According to Uwe Popert, immunodeficiency is only suspected if more than twelve serious infections occur in a year. “More often, frequent respiratory infections are caused by allergies to the mucous membranes of the nose.”

Anyone who often has a stuffy nose due to allergies to house dust, mold or pollen is often more susceptible to respiratory infections, Popert says. This may be a possible explanation for why some people get sick again and again.

How to protect yourself from infections?

It’s probably impossible to completely avoid infection, but there are things we can do to keep our immune system working as well as possible. A short walk through the woods or park every day in the fall is not only good for your mood, but also for your immune system.

And, of course, eat a varied and balanced diet. “If you can’t eat that many fruits and vegetables, you can also dissolve a multivitamin tablet in water,” says Ivo Grebe. Your doctor also recommends considering getting a flu vaccine. It protects against severe flu. (dpa/af)

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