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Contagious diseases: How to tell the difference between flu and cold
Runny nose, headache, cough: especially in autumn and winter, it is not uncommon to catch an infection. Many immediately think of flu. But often the complaint is "only" a cold. Experts explain how to tell the difference between the contagious diseases and how to protect yourself.
Severe cold or influenza?
Runny nose, headache, hoarseness, fever: many people are sick in the cold season - some think a harmless infection. But be careful: in the autumn and winter months, the influenza season is also high. Experts explain how to tell the difference between a cold and the flu and how to protect yourself from infection.
Flu occurs all of a sudden
Dr. Wolfgang Reuter, health expert at DKV Deutsche Krankenversicherung, explains the difference between a “simple” cold and the flu in a consumer information.
"It is not always easy to differentiate between a cold and influenza," says Dr. Reuter.
You can tell whether you have the flu or an influenza infection, among other things, by how quickly the symptoms develop, because a real flu occurs suddenly.
In addition, symptoms such as fatigue and fatigue are usually more intense.
Influenza usually hits the body with full force. Cough, chills, headache and high fever - often over 40 degrees - are also indications of influenza.
Older people, children and people with a serious underlying illness, such as the cardiovascular system, should then definitely consult a doctor. Even if the symptoms are not clear.
"Both colds and the real flu are usually transmitted via droplet infection," explains the DKV expert. "This means that the viruses pass from person to person when they cough, sneeze or speak."
In order to protect yourself from infection, it is generally a good idea to keep away from the sick. And those who are already ill or particularly susceptible to infection should avoid crowds wherever possible.
These include, for example, fully occupied buses, trains or elevators. Above all, proper hygiene is the be-all and end-all during the cold period, because viruses can also spread to doorknobs, keyboards or handles, for example in stairwells.
If the hand moves from there to the nose or mouth, it can happen quickly. "Frequent, thorough hand washing is an important preventive measure," emphasizes the health expert.
"Likewise, the hands should stay away from the face, especially from the mucous membranes on the mouth and nose." It is advisable to avoid shaking hands and hugs during a flu or cold wave.
In addition to such measures, there is another way to protect yourself against an influenza infection:
"In principle, a flu shot makes sense, because vaccination can significantly reduce the risk of infection - by more than half," explains Dr. Johannes Schenkel, Medical Director of the Independent Patient Counseling Germany (UPD), in a message.
"The STIKO recommends above all people from 60 years and patients with chronic illnesses the annual vaccination at the family doctor", the UPD writes in another message.
And: "The same applies to pregnant women from the second third of pregnancy, residents of nursing homes, medical staff and professionals with a lot of customer contact."
Ultimately, everyone has to decide for themselves whether a flu vaccination makes sense.
Strengthening the body's defenses: fresh air and warm clothing
The best protection against an infection is a good, resilient immune system. In order to strengthen your own defenses, it is therefore advisable right now to pay attention to a healthy, vitamin-rich diet, sufficient exercise and enough sleep.
“If you want to stand up to the pathogens, dress warmly because freezing weakens the immune system,” advises Dr. Reuter. Saunas and changing showers can also help to strengthen the immune system.
The mucous membranes only offer protection against infection as long as they do not dry out. Therefore, the viruses have an easy time with dry heating air.
"Regular ventilation at home and at work is therefore also a good idea in winter," says the DKV expert. Humidifiers can also help prevent the mucous membranes from drying out.
What helps if I get infected?
If you get caught despite protective measures, the main thing to take care of yourself for flu and colds is to drink a lot and to stay in bed for a few days.
Most infections heal on their own: As a rule, colds reach their peak after two or three days, after about a week the worst should be over.
Those affected should best lie warmly wrapped up in bed or on the sofa and drink two to three liters of water or herbal tea a day.
The complaints can be alleviated with the classic home remedies. There are some things that really help with colds.
A pack of chopped onions, for example, helps with ear pain. Gargling with an infusion of sage, wild mallow or chamomile has a beneficial effect on hoarseness and sore throat, while on the other hand cough has been proven by thyme and ribwort.
Taking vitamin C does not help
There are also a number of over-the-counter cold remedies in the pharmacy, but they only fight the symptoms: the cause itself, i.e. the viruses, can only defeat the body's immune system - and that takes time.
In the case of high fever, severe pain or if the symptoms do not subside after seven days, a visit to the doctor is advisable.
The additional intake of vitamin C for colds is useless. According to scientific knowledge, such preparations have no influence on the symptoms and the duration of the disease. (ad)