Preventing a cold: Effective tips & tricks

Erkältung vorbeugen: Effektive Tipps & Tricks

For many people, colds are an unpleasant side effect of winter. Colds affect our well-being, our performance and cause unpleasant symptoms. Often, however, people don't even take the time to cure a cold. This represents a health risk that is not without concern. The question naturally arises as to whether one cannot simply prevent colds in order to avoid all these unpleasant problems.

In this article we will clarify for you whether and if so, how you can prevent colds. We give you 5 important tips and inform you about the topic of colds.

the essentials in brief

  • Colds are flu-like infections that are usually caused by the rhinovirus. It is important that you distinguish between flu-like infections and flu / influenza.
  • The viruses that cause colds are transmitted by droplet infection. Accordingly, the risk of infection is very high, since the viruses are everywhere in the air and can be inhaled by you.
  • You can take precautions to reduce the risk of catching a cold. To prevent a cold as best as possible, you can, for example, ensure enough sleep, a balanced diet and appropriate clothing.

What is a cold?

A cold is an infection of the upper respiratory tract. Possible symptoms of a cold can include a sore throat, cough, runny nose, hoarseness and fever. These symptoms can occur individually or in any combination.

Especially during the cold seasons, autumn and winter, many people suffer from colds. Adults usually catch colds up to four times a year. In children, even up to ten annual infections are not unusual.

In the vernacular, the meaning of the word flu is sometimes blurred. Many people use the generic term cold for all sorts of minor illnesses. Doctors, however, only count flu-like infections as part of a cold. The influenza or virus flu is to be distinguished from the common cold.

Background: What you should know about colds

Many people often have little knowledge about colds. For them, a cold is usually an unwelcome illness that affects our well-being for a few days, but can be quickly treated with a few readily available medications. If you just caught yourself thinking you belong in this group or just want to know more about the common cold, be sure to read the following sections.

Why do we even catch a cold?

Colds are caused by viruses entering our bodies. There are over 30 viruses that can cause a cold. The main trigger is the rhinovirus. The rhinovirus enters our circulation via droplet infection. Accordingly, it can be enough if you talk to a person who is already infected.

If droplets are released into the air by someone speaking and you breathe in those droplets, the virus is already in you and you can get sick.

There are countless other ways of getting infected with the virus. It is also difficult to become immune to the rhinovirus, as it has found a way of tricking our immune system and sending out false messengers. Furthermore, there are over 150 variants of the rhinovirus that mutate seasonally. (1,2)

To get a more detailed insight into the process and what happens during a cold, I highly recommend watching this video.

What time of year do we catch cold most often?

The high season for colds is the cold season. This usually includes late autumn, winter or a cold spring. We don't catch colds from the cold, but the cold makes our immune systems work harder.

When it's cold, the air is very dry. Dry air means that our airways dry out and are no longer surrounded by a protective layer of mucus. Viruses that penetrate our airways have an easier time attacking the cells of our mucous membrane. (1,2,6)

In addition, our body is less well supplied with blood when it is cold. Accordingly, there are fewer immune cells at our airway access points, such as the nose, and viruses are less able to be caught. (2.5)

What are the first symptoms of a cold?

There are a number of symptoms that can occur during a cold. The intensity and combination of the symptoms can vary depending on the course of the disease.

The most common symptoms of a cold are:

  • Cough
  • Sniffles
  • Fever
  • hoarseness
  • Sore throat

As a rule, however, these symptoms occur to a tolerable extent for many people when they have a cold. Nevertheless, they should not be underestimated and a cold should always be completely cured. (2,5,6)

Is there a risk of infection with colds?

The risk of infection from colds is immense. The rhinovirus specializes in spreading itself easily and as effectively as possible.

It does not kill the host but tries to find a new host as quickly as possible. This happens very easily via droplet infection. (1,2,5)

When speaking, for example, a large number of saliva droplets are easily released into the air. You only have to inhale this and you have the pathogen in your body. As you can see, it is very difficult to protect yourself from infection, as you often do not realize when you are infected. Many people often take part in public life despite having a cold, so the pathogens are very easily and numerously airborne. The risk of infection is very high, especially in places where there are many people in a small space.

Can you prevent colds with home remedies?

Unfortunately, preventing colds with home remedies does not work as you might imagine. There are no miracle recipes that you can mix together from different home remedies that will never let you get sick again.

However, a balanced diet can be described as a home remedy and it can very well help to prevent a cold. More on that later. However, you can try to treat your cold with home remedies if you are already ill.

Some symptoms, such as a runny nose or cough, can be relieved with tea, baths or steam baths, which can contribute to a better healing process.

Preventing a cold: 5 tips for preventing a cold

As already mentioned, it is sometimes very difficult to protect yourself from infection. In the following sections we have filtered out a few tips for you that can help you to prevent a cold. You will learn how and why these tips work.

While it may not be possible to be 100 percent protected from catching a cold, if you follow these 5 tips, the chances that you will get sick less often than those around you are very high.

Tip Meaning
Sufficient hygiene Wash your hands regularly and avoid sharing dishes with other people.
Balanced nutrition Eat a balanced diet and make sure that you add all the necessary nutrients and vitamins to your body.
sleep and regeneration phases Sleep enough and well to improve the conduction of your immune system.
Appropriate clothing Wear clothes that keep you warm so you don't get cold and your blood circulation is affected.
keep distance Keep your distance from people whose medical condition you do not know so that they cannot infect you.

Tip 1: Sufficient hygiene

In order to prevent a cold, you have to pay attention to hygiene. The rhinovirus and other cold viruses can survive on surfaces for a period of time. Viruses can also survive on the skin. Accordingly, it is possible that if you put your hands on your face and there is a virus on your hand, you can become infected very easily. (2,3,7)

You should wash your hands as often as possible to prevent such virus accumulations. You should also avoid drinking from the same glass or using the same dishes with people who have a cold.

Tip 2: Balanced diet

Eating well can also make you less susceptible to colds. You should eat as balanced a diet as possible and make sure that you add all the important vitamins and nutrients to your body. This is how you support your immune system and ensure that it works well.(2,6)

It is also beneficial if you refrain from excessive consumption of alcohol, cigarettes and other drugs. These do exactly the opposite and weaken your immune system.(2)

Tip 3: Sleep and regeneration phases

Another tip is that you should always ensure sufficient sleep and regeneration phases. Too little or bad sleep puts a strain on your body and thus also on your immune system. This then does not work as desired and you become more susceptible to diseases. Insufficient sleep also causes stress. Stress is a favorable factor for viruses.(1,2,7)

If you find it difficult to get enough sleep or your sleep is of poor quality, then changing your habits is highly advisable. Structure your day in such a way that there is enough time for rest and eliminate unimportant stress factors from your everyday life. In order to achieve quality sleep, you can try to learn and apply appropriate relaxation techniques.

Tip 4: Dress appropriately

Cold has a negative effect on your body's ability to fight viruses. Your body's blood supply is reduced and your immune system works more slowly and not as effectively.(2.8"> Furthermore, cold air dries out your airways and the protective layer of mucus on your mucous membrane is lost.

This makes it easy for pathogens to play and they get to your mucous membrane cells more quickly and you become ill because your immune system is less able to counteract it.(5,8)

A scarf or a thick jacket will not prevent your airways from drying out in winter, but they ensure that your body does not cool down and that your blood circulation continues to be good. This helps your immune system enormously, as the whole body is better supplied with immune cells and can act faster against viral attacks.

young man in yellow winter jacket

The right clothing is very important, especially in winter. If the boy in the picture were to go without his winter jacket, he would cool down very quickly and give germs a chance. (Image source: Unsplash / Alasdair Elmes)

To protect your airways, you can wear a scarf over your mouth, for example. This acts like a filter and ensures that viruses do not get into your respiratory tract and cause damage there. If you use this method, pay attention to hygiene and ideally wash the scarf every day.

Tip 5: Keep your distance

Tip 5 is that you should always keep enough distance from people you don't know if they are healthy. As you already know, the pathogens that cause a cold are transmitted by droplet infection. You can protect yourself against this by simply keeping a few meters away.

In this way you don't give the pathogens a chance to get into your respiratory tract, since the droplets cannot fly endlessly through the air, but sink to the ground relatively quickly.(1,4,5)

However, this method can often be very difficult to implement, especially if you live in the city. On the train or bus, many strangers are crowded together in a very small space and you can hardly avoid inhaling the saliva droplets of your fellow human beings.

Even if you manage to keep your distance, there are countless pathogens lurking on the handles and on the seats that can easily get into your body. Accordingly, you should definitely heed the first 4 tips to have a chance of not getting sick in such a situation.

People standing on the beach in winter

In most cases it is not so easy to keep enough distance. This is often a problem for city dwellers in particular. As you can see in the picture, people who live in the country rarely have a problem with this. (Image Source: Unsplash / Nick Fewings)


Ultimately, it can be said that, unfortunately, you can never protect yourself 100 percent from a cold or prevent it. At least not when you take part in everyday life and come into contact with other people. Viruses are constantly mutating and their diversity is enormous. Accordingly, the chance of becoming immune to colds is also very small.

However, we have learned that there is a way to reduce your susceptibility to the common cold. We have dealt with 5 tips that help to strengthen our immune system and make us less susceptible to illness. If you stick to the 5 tips, you can go outside with peace of mind and take part in public life without hesitation. You won't be able to avoid catching a cold at some point, but the chance that it will happen to you much less frequently than to your fellow human beings who do not follow these tips is very high.


  1. Robert Koch Institute
  2. cottage cheese
  3. Eggers, M. et al.: How effective is hand washing against influenza viruses? (HygMed, 2009)
  4. Health Knowledge Foundation
  5. Federal Center for Health Education
  6. Lissiman E, Bhasale AL, Cohen M. Garlic for the common cold. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014(11):CD006206.
  7. Hao Q, Dong BR, Wu T. Probiotics for preventing acute upper respiratory tract infections. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015(2):CD006895.
  8. Brenner IK, Castellani JW, Gabaree C, Young AJ, Zamecnik J, Shephard RJ, et al. Immune changes in humans during cold exposure: effects of prior heating and exercise. J Appl Physiol (1985). 1999;87(2):699-710.
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