Runny nose, cough, sore throat, hoarseness, fever - these are the classic side effects of a cold. But what helps with a cold when it has already broken out? We want to clarify these and other questions for you in this article.
The first part will deal with what a cold actually is, how it develops and what you can do about it. In the second part, we will then focus on the classic home remedies and measures that can be taken or used to help with a cold.
the essentials in brief
- A cold is an infection of the upper respiratory tract. It begins with classic cold symptoms and occurs particularly frequently in autumn and winter.
- A cold is caused by viruses and not by cold, which one might think at first based on the name. A common cold usually lasts about eight to ten days.
- In order to get rid of a cold quickly, you should take it easy and, if necessary, use preparations or natural home remedies such as honey, onions, ginger or the classic cold bath or wrap.
Definition: what is a cold?
A cold is an infection of the upper respiratory tract. Therefore, it is also often referred to as a flu infection. However, compared to the flu, in which influenza viruses play a role, a cold is relatively harmless and usually starts slowly.
Usually, a cold begins with a sore throat and a runny nose. Other typical symptoms of a cold are cough, hoarseness and fever. The nose gets blocked and it is difficult to breathe. The sufferer usually feels weak and tired.
Especially in the cold seasons, in autumn and winter, many people are more susceptible to colds. Two to five colds a year are considered normal for adults, while up to eight infections a year are normal for young children. (1)
Background: What you should know about a cold
Very few people know about the background of a cold. For this reason, we would like to create clarity for you in this section and answer all the important questions about the subject of colds.
How does a cold even come about?
Despite the name, colds are not caused by cold, but by viruses. You can become infected if your immune system is weakened, for example by exposure to cold or stress. More than 200 different types of virus can be the trigger.
A cold usually starts two to four days after infection and usually lasts a week at most. The hands are a fundamental transmission medium, which is why regular hand washing is recommended for prevention .
As already mentioned, over 200 types of virus can cause a cold. The main triggers are the so-called rhinoviruses, which cause 40% of colds. (2) The rhinoviruses enter our organism through droplet infection by attaching themselves to the mucous membranes of the nose or throat and multiplying there. In addition, they can also spread via hands or surfaces.
After an infection, our immune cells then try to fight the virus as best they can, which can result in reddening of the throat, coughing, difficulty swallowing and increased mucus formation. However, compared to the flu, those affected have little or no fever.
How long does a cold last?
As the saying goes, a cold comes three days, stays three days and goes three days. In fact, a common cold usually lasts eight to ten days.
In rare cases, however, complications can occur. Anyone who ignores the symptoms of a cold and, for example, does sports despite a cold or does not rest and still goes to work, can also delay a cold and thus risk a worsening of the disease.
What days are the worst when you have a cold?
As already mentioned, a cold usually begins with a runny nose and a sore throat. The sore throat is usually the strongest on the third day, but then subsides quickly under good circumstances (sufficient rest, little stress, going to bed early, warmth...). The cold usually reaches its peak on the fifth day and usually disappears by the ninth day.
In contrast, a dry, irritating cough of moderate intensity usually occurs during the course of the cold, which can become a persistent cough on the eighth or ninth day. However, if you take it easy early on, allow yourself more rest than usual and do not unnecessarily burden the organism, a cold is usually over after a week without a severe cough as a result.
How to get rid of a cold quickly?
Colds can be treated in many different ways. Depending on the intensity of the symptoms, various preparations can help to get rid of a cold faster.
There are some medications that help with the various symptoms of a cold, such as medication for body aches. (Image Source: Steve Buissinne / Pixabay)
For example, there are medications that can clear a stuffy nose or tablets that can alleviate headaches and body aches. In any case, you should not wait too long and find out about suitable tools and access them early on.
Antibiotics do not work against cold viruses, only against bacteria.
Normally, most people have several symptoms at the same time during a cold. It is therefore recommended here, instead of taking separate preparations for each symptom (it is essential to take interactions into account), to take a combination preparation.
Such combination drugs contain two or more active ingredients and therefore have a more holistic effect. They are usually available in pharmacies without a prescription. You can also clarify with a doctor or pharmacist which active ingredient preparations could be suitable for you and your symptoms.
What should you do at the first sign of a cold?
When the first signs of a cold appear or the throat starts to hurt, all alarm bells should be ringing for the person affected. Because when the first cold symptoms become noticeable, ideally you should immediately resort to suitable home remedies.
Now the body should be kept warm and protected. Many people like to wear warm socks, a cozy blanket and a warm cup of tea. But even a walk in the fresh air is not taboo when you have a cold, on the contrary, the fresh air can even help against a stuffy nose. A hot bath or even a nap can work wonders for headaches and body aches.
If you have a cough or runny nose, you should also drink plenty of water. This loosens the mucus and facilitates drainage from the airways. It is therefore best to drink at least three liters of liquid a day, preferably water or herbal tea. Because tea not only provides fluid, but also helps to relieve sore throat and pharynx.
What helps with a cold: The best tips & tricks
In the following section, we will share with you the best tips and tricks that can help you with a cold.
Home remedies for a cold
If you have already caught a cold, you can use various home remedies . In the following we would like to present you with the most well-known home remedies that are used to help with a common cold.
Honey has an antibacterial effect and at the same time soothes irritated mucous membranes in the throat and pharynx. It is therefore very popular as a mild home remedy for colds. Rightly so, because scientists have found in various studies that honey actually improves the symptoms of an upper respiratory tract infection. (3,4,5)
Lemons are very healthy. This is mainly due to the vitamin C they contain. The juice of half a lemon can already cover a third of our daily vitamin C requirement. (6)
Vitamin C strengthens the immune system and can also intercept free radicals from our body. As a result, it can protect our cells from oxidative stress and increase our immune system. (7)
In Russia, garlic is a common home remedy for colds. In addition to vitamins A, B and C, the tuber also contains the sulphur-containing allicin, which not only gives it its typical smell, but also acts as a natural antibiotic. In addition, many studies have examined the effectiveness of garlic, finding relief from symptoms and speeding up recovery. (8.9)
Due to their ingredients, onions not only have a disinfecting and anti-inflammatory effect, but also have an antispasmodic and expectorant effect. Like lemons and garlic, onions are high in vitamin C. (10)
Onion juice is also widely used as a cough syrup substitute. This natural cough syrup is super easy to make and consists of just two ingredients: onions and honey. To do this, cut the onions into small cubes, place in a screw-top jar and cover with three to four tablespoons of honey.
Then close the jar and let the mixture sit overnight. The sugar extracts the active ingredients from the vegetables and this creates a healing onion juice. If you have a cough, you should take a teaspoon of it three times a day.
Ginger is anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and stimulates blood circulation. (11) Traditional Chinese medicine has relied on the healing properties of the tuber for centuries.
Ginger has also proven itself as a home remedy for colds and is often used to treat a sore throat. (12) It is therefore advisable to drink freshly prepared ginger tea during the cold season. The larger the cut surfaces of the ginger pieces are, the more essential oils can get into the tea.
Simply pour boiling water over the ginger slices and let them soak for at least five minutes. Depending on your taste, you can spice up the ginger tea with a little lemon juice or honey.
We also don't want to withhold grandma's classic panacea for a cold from you: chicken broth. A bowl of chicken soup can warm us from the inside out and make us feel comfortable. In addition, the chicken broth provides important vitamins such as vitamins A and E as well as the protein cysteine.
In addition, the healing effect of chicken broth has already been confirmed by studies. (13) So that the chicken soup can work really well, it should be prepared with fresh ingredients. It is best to cook a larger quantity beforehand and freeze the finished soup. This can then be reheated at any time as needed.
Other measures against a cold
In addition to the usual home remedies, there are other measures that can help with a cold.
Warm baths have different effects on the body. On the one hand, the warmth of the bath water promotes blood circulation in the skin and muscles and, on the other hand, it relaxes the muscles. This reduces the body aches that can occur at the onset of a cold. In addition, the body's own defenses are supported.
Experts recommend a duration of 10 to 20 minutes and a water temperature of 32 to 38 degrees Celsius for a cold bath. (Image Source: Monstera/Pexels)
The water should be as hot as is comfortable, but not too lukewarm, otherwise the bath cannot achieve the desired effect. If the heat is too much for you, you can start with lower temperatures and then gradually add hot water. It is also typical for a cold bath that it is enriched with essential oils such as eucalyptus, spruce or pine needles.
After the bath, you should also make sure not to get up too quickly. After drying off, be sure to wrap up warm and rest a little so that your body can recover from the hot bath. The typical cold bath with essential oils is not suitable for children under 6 years of age.
Steam inhalation can be used if you have a bad runny nose or cough. With an acute infection of the upper respiratory tract, such as a cold, steam inhalations can be done 1-3 times a day for 5-20 minutes each time.
Depending on the symptoms, various additives can achieve improved results. If you have a bad cough, you can add eucalyptus or chamomile to the water, for example. Quendel and thyme are very good for colds.
With a nasal rinse or nasal douche, liquid (usually saline solution) is introduced into the nasal cavity in order to remove pathogens and allergens from the nose. In the case of acute illnesses such as a cold, the nasal cavity can be rinsed up to three times a day.
Wraps around the neck, chest or calves can also relieve cold symptoms. A damp cloth is used for this purpose, which is soaked in either warm or cold water. We would like to briefly explain the different types of wrapping and their applications in the following table.
|neck wrap||For inflammation, mucus in the throat or swollen lymph nodes|
|chest wrap||Can stop coughing|
|calf wrap||Can reduce fever|
Additives such as quark or mashed, warm potatoes can ensure that the desired temperature in the wrap lasts longer.
Colds are uncomfortable. Because they often come with several side effects and affect our well-being and our performance for several days. Then it is particularly important that we take it easy and don't ignore the cold too much or even ignore it completely.
There are many tools and measures you can use to help you recover from a cold. These home remedies, some of which are very old, have been tried and tested for several decades and have been passed on in families from generation to generation. After all, some scientific studies have even been able to confirm their positive effect on a cold.
- dgk.de: Normal susceptibility to infection or immune deficiency?, 10.2014 Source
- deutsche-familienversicherung.de: Cold (flu-like infection): causes, symptoms & treatment, 02/21/2018 Source
- Abuelgasim H, Albury C, Lee JE Effectiveness of honey for symptomatic relief in upper respiratory tract infections: a systematic review and meta-analysis BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine 2021;26:57-64. Source
- Pasupuleti VR, Sammugam L, Ramesh N, Gan SH. Honey, Propolis, and Royal Jelly: A Comprehensive Review of Their Biological Actions and Health Benefits. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2017;2017:1259510. doi: 10.1155/2017/1259510. Epub 2017 Jul 26. PMID: 28814983; PMCID: PMC5549483. Source
- Moyad MA. Conventional and alternative medical advice for cold and flu prevention: what should be recommended and what should be avoided? Urol Nurs. 2009 Nov-Dec;29(6):455-8. PMID: 20088240. Source
- Hemilä H, Chalker E. Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Jan 31;2013(1):CD000980. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD000980.pub4. PMID: 23440782; PMCID: PMC8078152. Source
- Carr AC, Maggini S. Vitamin C and Immune Function. nutrients. 2017 Nov 3;9(11):1211. doi: 10.3390/nu9111211. PMID: 29099763; PMCID: PMC5707683. Source
- Lissiman E, Bhasale AL, Cohen M. Garlic for the common cold. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Mar 14;(3):CD006206. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD006206.pub3. Updated in: Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014;(11):CD006206. PMID: 22419312. Source
- Josling P. Preventing the common cold with a garlic supplement: a double-blind, placebo-controlled survey. Adv Ther. 2001 Jul-Aug;18(4):189-93. doi: 10.1007/BF02850113. PMID: 11697022. Source
- Griffiths G, Trueman L, Crowther T, Thomas B, Smith B. Onions--a global benefit to health. Phytother Res. 2002 Nov;16(7):603-15. doi: 10.1002/ptr.1222. PMID: 12410539. Source
- Li H, Liu Y, Luo D, Ma Y, Zhang J, Li M, Yao L, Shi X, Liu X, Yang K. Ginger for health care: An overview of systematic reviews. Complement Ther Med. 2019 Aug;45:114-123. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2019.06.002. Epub 2019 Jun 5. PMID: 31331547. Source
- Khodaie, Laleh, and Omid Sadeghpoor. "Ginger from ancient times to the new outlook." Jundishapur journal of natural pharmaceutical products vol. 10.1e18402. 17 Jan 2015, doi:10.17795/jjnpp-18402 Source
- Rennard BO, Ertl RF, Gossman GL, Robbins RA, Rennard SI. Chicken soup inhibits neutrophil chemotaxis in vitro. Chest. 2000 Oct;118(4):1150-7. doi: 10.1378/chest.118.4.1150. PMID: 11035691. Source