How to avoid catching a cold during the pandemic – and the best remedies if you do

  • In the midst of the coronavirus, how can you tell if you have Covid-19 or just a cold?
  • There is no cure, but you can only control the symptoms without going to the doctor
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A cold can be a pain, but treat the symptoms, and you shouldn’t suffer too badly

Winter is coming. Well, we can only hope. But usually with winter comes sore throats, coughs and sometimes fever. This year there will also be that niggling feeling: what if it’s Covid-19?

Young people can get fairly strong symptoms from a cold. But as annoying as they are – the runny nose, the itchy throat, the irritating cough – colds may not always completely knock you out of action. Some, though, do tend to drag on for too long.

The good news is there’s a lot you can do to make things better.

So what’s the best way to treat a cold – and when should you go to the doctor?

Here’s some advice from the experts to see you through this cold season – a more difficult one than usual, given the ongoing pandemic.

What is influenza?

First of all, what exactly is a cold?

The word “cold” is a bit confusing as they are caused by a virus, rather than the temperature. There are approximately 200 cold viruses and they tend to spread faster when the weather is cold.

The viruses cause the mucous membranes in your nose to become inflamed, triggering mucus production, says Professor Thomas Deitmer, a leading ENT specialist in Germany. Some of that mucus, which is very salty, drips down to the back of your throat, irritating it and making it hurt.

Your throat also gets inflamed if you have a cold, making it harder to swallow. The larynx and airways are also often affected, leaving sufferers hoarse and leading to coughing and, even more mucus.

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What medicines can cure a cold?

None, sadly. “There aren’t any therapies to treat the cause, you can only treat the symptoms,” says Deitmer.

But, luckily, there are a lot of treatments for those. They include decongestant nasal drops to unblock your nose, mucolytics to thin the mucus, and medicines containing paracetamol, ibuprofen or aspirin to treat any fever or pain.

People often take combined drugs for colds, created to handle a range of symptoms. There are also plenty of herbal medicines available, too.

The best thing to do is ask your pharmacist. There are specific remedies for specific problems, for example you might want to stop an irritating cough, but your pharmacist might give you something to thin the mucus.

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What else you can do

Drink, drink and drink some more – at least 1.5 litres a day (ideally of water, though fruit juices, soups and herbal teas are good, too) and more if you have a fever.

Steam can help you to breathe more easily. A hot bath is good, unless you have a fever, but if that’s not an option, put some boiling water in a basin, lean over the basin (obviously not touching the water or burning yourself in any way) and put a towel over your head and the basin to make your own mini steam room.

When to see a doctor

With the coronavirus pandemic still under way, you should avoid going to the doctor with cold or flu symptoms without calling ahead, first, says Deitmer.

The best thing to do is for you or your parent phone your GP or a medical helpline. Call if anything on the following list applies to you, says pharmacist Ursula Sellerberg:

  • If you have a high temperature of 39 degrees Celsius or above, or if taking medicines hasn’t helped to bring the fever down.
  • If you’re suffering from pain in your sinus passages behind your forehead and eyes, particularly when bending or lifting.
  • If your phlegm is any colour other than white.
  • If you have any other heart or lung disease.
  • If you suspect you may have another condition such as a middle ear infection or pneumonia.

How to avoid catching a cold

All of the health measures that people are taking due to the pandemic also help prevent colds – keeping a distance, washing your hands frequently and thoroughly, not touching your face, keeping away from crowds, and getting enough fresh air.

Otherwise, a healthy lifestyle is always helpful. That means a varied diet, lots of movement and fresh air and no smoking.

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When it might be Covid

Coughing and a fever are very common symptoms of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

With colds, fever is rarely a symptom and usually sufferers only have a slight cough, says Germany’s National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians.

If you’re sneezing, that is not a Covid-19 symptom, but it is common in colds. However, when it comes to symptoms, there is some overlap between colds, flu and Covid-19 so it isn’t always easy to tell.

Whatever happens, keep calm, don’t panic and when in doubt, reduce your contact with others as a precaution. Keep your distance, wear a face mask, and call the doctor before showing up.

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