These tips all apply whether you have a cold, flu or Covid-19


Applying something cool to your forehead can help with the headache that accompanies many a cold, although you should try to keep warm otherwise. — dpa

You've got a runny nose and sore throat, and your body aches and limbs feel heavy?

While nothing can cure a cold, there are some remedies that can ease the symptoms.

When your throat gets scratchy

Whenever you feel a cold coming on, “... you should try to keep warm and get sufficient sleep,” advises German Society for Primary Care and Family Medicine (DEGAM) general practice section spokesman Dr Uwe Popert.

Perhaps you typically react by swallowing loads of vitamins to nip it in the bud.

“Studies on whether lots of vitamin C help are inconclusive.

“At any rate, taking highly-dosed vitamin tablets doesn’t seem to be beneficial,” he says, adding that it never hurts to eat a balanced diet rich in fruit and vegetables.

And as averse as you may be to letting illness cramp your style, it’s best to give your body a break.

“If you feel knackered and weak, you shouldn’t simply keep up the pace, but downshift instead,” says general practitioner (GP) Dr Ivo Grebe.

Cold, flu or Covid-19?

It’s hardly possible to distinguish among the common cold, influenza (flu) or Covid-19 on the basis of symptoms alone, but there are some clues.

If your symptoms include gastrointestinal problems and a headache, the new SARS-CoV-2 viral variant Pirola (BA.2.86, part of the Omicron family) could be the culprit, according to Dr Popert.

“And if the onset of the illness is sudden, with a high fever and severe fatigue, it could be the start of a flu infection,” he says.

Although the Covid-19 pandemic has heightened our concern about which virus our immune system is fighting, this is largely irrelevant to doctors, he adds, since none are treatable with drugs.

The sole exception are antiviral drugs that can be given to high-risk patients at the start of a Covid-19 infection to prevent severe illness.

And they should be administered only after careful consideration.

In the absence of a cure, “all of the available remedies for a cold are meant merely to alleviate your subjective symptoms and impairments,” Dr Grebe says.

Lozenges help to soothe a sore throat and pain relievers to lessen body aches, “but they don’t shorten the length of your illness,” he emphasises.

Testing for Covid-19 at home

If you’ve kept the test kit for months in a drawer or on a shelf, be aware that “they have an expiry date,” Dr Popert says.

ALSO READ: Is a Covid-19 home test still accurate after its expiry date?

“[Improper] storage can affect them as well. If the kit was lying on a radiator or in the sun, I wouldn’t vouch for the result.”

And you need to bear in mind that if you test yourself at the first sign of a scratchy throat, the viral load of the specimen collected by the swab will be below the detection limit of the test.

“A positive result isn’t possible until two or three days later,” he says.

Relieving symptoms

Drinking plenty of fluids is a must.

“This reduces the viral load in the nose and throat,” explains Dr Grebe.

“Aside from that, your body is under greater strain and loses more fluid.”

You can take pain relievers for body aches.

It’s best to avoid ibuprofen and aspirin though if you also have stomach problems.

“Paracetamol is gentler on the stomach,” Dr Popert says.

Steam inhalation can be soothing as well.

Which additives. – e.g. essential oils – help best hasn’t been sufficiently studied, according to Dr Popert.

So if you choose to bend over a bowl of hot water with a towel over your head, decide for yourself whether to add an aromatic, and if so, which one.

“If you prefer steam inhalation with camomile to plain water, by all means go ahead,” he says.

As for coughing, he shares that: “Warm milk with honey is actually a scientifically-tested remedy that’s rather effective for coughing.”

For sounder sleep

To breathe more freely through their nose at night, many cold sufferers keep a decongestant nasal spray on their bedside table.

“I recommend a child nasal spray though,” remarks Dr Popert, who says higher-dosed adult sprays are effective, but more damaging to the nasal mucosa when used longer than a week.

Another option is nasal douching with a saline solution before going to bed.

“If you prepare the solution yourself, don’t make it saltier than sea water,” he warns.

“Otherwise, it can cause a nosebleed.”

Dissolving two level teaspoons of table salt in one litre of water will give you the right amount.

I’m always sick; is it an immune deficiency?

An immune deficiency isn’t suspected until you’ve had more than 12 serious infections in the space of a year, notes Dr Popert.

“Frequent respiratory tract infections are caused much more often by an allergy in the nasal mucosa region,” he points out.

If your nose is often stuffy from an allergy to house dust, mould or pollen, you are more susceptible to respiratory infections, he says.

While you can’t prevent respiratory infections altogether, there are some things you can do to bolster your immune system.

One is taking a short walk every day through a park, which is a mood booster too.

Another, of course, is to eat a varied, balanced diet.

“If you don’t manage to eat lots of fruit and vegetables, you can dissolve multivitamin tablets in water once in a while,” suggests Dr Grebe.

He also advises having a flu vaccination, as it can keep you from getting the flu and reduce severity of illness if you happen to contract it anyway. – By Ricarda Dieckmann/dpa

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