Has it got you this winter? Then you feel like 14.5 million other Germans. We catch colds particularly frequently in January and February, as long-term observations by the Robert Koch Institute have shown. The simple development of a cold goes like this: someone around us sneezes or coughs – and we breathe in a whole torrent of pathogens. Or the viruses get from door handles, ATM keyboards and the like to our hands and from there to the mucous membranes of the mouth, eyes or nose.
Our basic protection comes into effect immediately. Our mucous membrane has an efficient self-cleaning mechanism, mucociliary cleaning. However: cold and dry air pollute this self-cleaning process of the airways and viruses have an easier time.
Defense cells from the group of white blood cells fight on the second front. They cause inflammatory reactions, which means that the tissue is better supplied with blood and becomes more permeable. This makes it easier for subsequent phagocytes to destroy large quantities of foreign bodies. Killer cells form the third barrier. They specialize in recognizing and breaking down virus-infected body cells. These immune reactions in our body run extremely quickly. The first symptoms can appear as early as twelve hours after contact with the pathogen.
Everyone has already experienced what follows several times: Our energetic immune system produces lots of watery secretions to get rid of the viruses. The inflamed mucous membranes swell, breathing is only possible through the mouth. The initially dry cough turns into a slimy sputum after a few days. In addition, there are sometimes weaknesses, headache and body aches and rarely fever. In some cases the immune system has the situation under control again after a week, in others the infection lasts for weeks.
Will colds soon be preventable?
Scientists all over the world are working on effective control. Simply swallow a tablet – and the sniffing nose is a thing of the past. Or get vaccinated in time and never have a cold again … That sounds great – and unfortunately easier than it is. Because: “Viruses, of which there are hundreds of different forms, are to blame for the flu infection. And new ones are constantly being created. Personally, I cannot imagine that at some point there will be a vaccination or tablet that effectively protects against all forms of cold, ”explains Dr. Uwe Popert from the German Society for General and Family Medicine.
Experts estimate that we can expect a market-ready vaccine in ten years at the earliest. This then probably only protects against some of the viruses.
Keeping the immune system free
As before, it is important to rely on the tried and tested: our defense system! Even an intact immune system cannot always prevent a cold. But the better it works, the lighter the symptoms and the shorter the duration of the illness. People with a weakened immune system, on the other hand, often catch cold after cold. That is why it makes sense to support the body’s defenses. “Stress has a major impact on our susceptibility to infection,” says Prof. Manfred Schedlowski from the Essen University Hospital. “Short-term stress impulses such as an exam situation or an interview get our immune system going and even temporarily mobilize the defense,” says Schedlowski.
The immune system reacts similarly to half an hour of exercise. On the other hand, those who are constantly electrified and tense, overwhelm their defenses. The behavioral immunobiologist explains: “The body is then under constant bombardment with stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. This upsets the sensitive balance in the body and the work of the immune system is impaired. ”So how should we deal with the subject of colds? “Anyone who has had frequent and severe colds can see this as a warning signal from the body. Then you should put your current life situation to the test, ”says Schedlowski.
However, we don’t have to worry about our defenses in every stressful phase. “A healthy immune system can compensate for a few hours or days under full steam,” says Schedlowski. It also depends a lot on how you deal with stress: “Sometimes it’s not so much the stress itself, but the side effects. Those who are energized eat differently, eat more fast food and sweets and less healthy foods, do less sport, consume more alcohol or smoke more often. ”That is why tension and relaxation in everyday life should be balanced as much as possible. So give yourself breaks and actively relax by taking a walk, meeting up with friends or meditating.
Sleep and healthy eating are key
Sufficient sleep also keeps the immune system fit. “At night, the organism has time for energy-intensive repairs. The immune memory is rebalanced, ”says Schedlowski. In deep sleep, the data on germs acquired during the day are transferred to the long-term memory of the immune system, scientists from Lübeck, Tübingen and Utrecht came to this conclusion. If you are constantly overtired, the immune system makes fewer antibodies and defense cells available. A lack of sleep also increases the recovery time after an infection. Studies show that getting enough sleep is by far the best shield against the common cold virus. “Regardless of how old people were, whether they smoked or were very stressed, a lack of sleep remained the main driver of susceptibility to colds,” summarizes the psychologist Aric Prather from the University of California, who conducts research in this area.
And what about healthy eating? Freshly cooked chicken soup has been shown to aid recovery. It contains the protein cysteine, which inhibits inflammation and makes the mucous membranes swell. There is also a lot of zinc in the soup. A study by the “Cochrane Collaboration” with more than 1360 participants showed that those who consumed zinc-containing preparations from the first day of illness had less severe symptoms after seven days than in a comparison group who received a sham preparation. The immune booster zinc is found in large quantities in oat flakes, nuts, meat, fish and legumes. In addition, the following applies: the more colorful the menu, the better for the body’s own resistance. Red peppers, green broccoli, blue berries or orange pumpkin provide plenty of phytochemicals and thus strengthen the immune system in the fight against pathogens.
Below in the video: This is how you make your own immune booster!
Don’t get infected!
Washing hands is the be all and end all of prevention, as many studies confirm. The Robert Koch Institute recommends soaping your hands for at least 20 seconds. Tip: That’s about as long as singing “All my ducklings” once. Incidentally, no special funds are required. Scientists from the “National Institute for Health and Welfare” in Helsinki infected the backs of the hands of healthy subjects with cold viruses and tested which method would best remove the viruses. Thorough washing with soap was much more effective than a brief disinfection with alcohol-based agents.
Even those who sneeze can do their part to protect the environment. “In the past, you held your hand up, today we advise you to sneeze or cough into the crook of your arm,” emphasizes Popert, “that way viruses don’t spread by shaking hands or sticking somewhere. That minimizes spread. ”
What resources really help if it gets me?
“Regardless of whether it is home remedies, phytotherapy or chemistry, each form of treatment essentially only alleviates the symptoms. It is largely powerless against the viruses themselves, ”explains Popert. The general practitioner is co-author of the guideline for “Rhinosinusitis”, an expert in the field of colds (rhinitis) and inflammation of the paranasal sinuses (sinusitis). It often helps to seek specific advice from the pharmacy, because there are various helpers for every symptom. If your nose is blocked, it is important to clear your airways quickly. Because when breathing through the mouth, the organs are poorly supplied with oxygen. Decongestant nasal drops, for example with xylometazoline or oxymetazoline, usually help. Popert advises the use of children’s sprays: “They are less dosed, but also clear an adult’s nose.” Preparations without the preservative benzalkonium chloride are more tolerable for the nasal mucosa. Important: Do not use sprays for more than seven days as they can damage the nasal mucosa.
If the throat hurts, special cough lozenges stimulate the flow of saliva and thus keep the mucous membrane moist. Pastilles with a local anesthetic such as ambroxol or benzocaine are more effective. They also numb the oral mucosa. The anti-inflammatory effect of sage has also proven itself – as a tea or to gargle.
Be careful with coughing. Is it a dry cough? Then herbal cough suppressants such as marshmallow, ribwort or ivy help. In the case of a so-called productive, mucous cough, cough suppressants are taboo. Drinking a lot liquefies the mucus and makes it easier to cough up. The mucus solution can also be promoted through better blood circulation, for example through a hot water bottle.
Fever, headache and body aches are best relieved with the classics of the non-prescription pain relievers: ibuprofen and paracetamol. In general, however, increased temperature is a sensible healing reaction in our body, because cold viruses cannot tolerate high temperatures. The latest studies from China also show that the increased body temperature stimulates certain immune cells to act more intensively against sources of infection in the body.
When should you consult the doctor?
If you have difficulty breathing: This can indicate pneumonia and requires rapid treatment.
For severe sore throat or ear pain: They can be a symptom of a purulent tonsillitis or otitis media.
In severe pain.
If the elderly are confused or have a high fever.
For real! Cold also has its good sides
Anyone who is currently struggling with a cold should be told: “Influenza infections are even useful. They activate and train the immune system, similar to how it works in sport and our muscles, ”explains Uwe Popert. Even a trained organism cannot always prevent the common cold. But it is much milder and subsides faster. Therefore, doctors or educators rarely have a bad cold. And, according to Popert: “Studies indicate that frequent flu infections may reduce the risk of cancer. If that’s not worth every cold! “