Cold, flu or influenza infection?

Every year in the cold season colds, coughs, hoarseness meet every step of the way. One speaks of cold, flu or flu-like infection - but what is behind these terms? We bring light into the darkness, so that a delimitation of cold and flu will cause no more problems.

Cold or flu infection?

With a cold or flu-like infection - which means the same thing - is commonly referred to a viral disease that manifests itself with a cold, cough and other general symptoms. Around 200 different types of viruses can cause a cold, so you can also have a cold several times in quick succession.

The pathogens are so diverse (rhino, adeno and coronaviruses) that vaccination is not possible - fortunately the diseases are not usually life threatening. Mostly colds occur in the cold season, but it is also available as a summer flu. The situation is quite different with the real flu.

How does a flu announce?

Influenza is caused by the influenza virus. A distinction is made between three groups of influenza viruses whose genetic material is constantly changing somewhat - therefore, certain risk groups should undergo a flu vaccine once a year.

The problem with the real flu is the severe illness with the typical cold symptoms, but here are much more pronounced. You may also be affected by lung (pneumonia), heart (myocardium and pericarditis) or brain (tissue inflammation).

In recent years there have been infectious diseases with influenza symptoms that caused a stir around the world - SARS and bird flu are examples of viral infections that can also be dangerous for humans.

How do you express cold and flu?

The flu and cold initially express the same symptoms and symptoms. Typical symptoms are:

  • Sore throat
  • sniff
  • to cough
  • hoarseness

Frequently, then shivering announces a rise in temperature and fever is accompanied by Schischelfrostattacken. Body aches as well as headaches. Weakness, fatigue and loss of appetite complete the clinical picture.

With a true flu, the symptoms and discomfort often start suddenly and are so severe that the sufferer can tell exactly when the flu started.

Delimitation to other diseases

Other illnesses start with colds or watery eyes - for example, hay fever or allergic rhinitis in house dust allergy. Coughing, coughing and hoarseness are also causing another group of illnesses - measles, mumps, rubella and many more. After a few days, the typical rash often develops, making the diagnosis easier.

With recurrent and persistent colds in childhood, an innate immune deficiency may be behind it - however, up to six colds per year in childhood are not worrying.

Snuffling nose typical for colds

A snuffy nose can be found in the vast majority of cases of a cold. As soon as the cold on the paranasal sinuses expands, one speaks of a sinusitis.

A slight conjunctivitis or pathogen spread to the middle ear (via the Eustachian tube) with otitis media is common especially in the first days of illness. When the virus spreads to the lungs, coughing shows bronchial involvement (acute bronchitis), which can grow out with no countermeasures to pneumonia.

Especially in infants, even a banal runny nose quickly leads to a poor general condition. Babies breathe almost exclusively through the nose - and refuse to drink when the nose is blocked, because the change between breathing and swallowing is too difficult. In infancy, the swollen mucous membranes often lead to middle ear infection.

The nose is almost always affected by a cold, its environment (sinuses, eyes and ears) often, the bronchi fortunately rare. While in a normal cold the extension of the adjacent organs to the paranasal sinuses, eyes or bronchia can be considered a complication, the flu, heart and brain can also be damaged by influenza flu - pneumonia, myocarditis or inflammation of the brain tissue.

The danger of a superinfection

Since the disease weakens the immune system and the mucous membranes are sensitive, even bacteria such as pneumococci have easy play and can cause a so-called superinfection (patch secondary infection). Then the viral pneumonia is superimposed by the bacterial.

Flu or cold - diagnosis

There are several ways to diagnose a flu or cold:

  • Anamnesis (ask for a medical history): The duration and severity of the symptoms may indicate whether it is more of a cold or a flu.
  • Inspection (contemplation), palpation (palpation), percussion (knocking) and auscultation (eavesdropping): A snuffy nose is easily recognized by the red, swollen mucous membranes and when it hurts when tapping the forehead or cheekbones. Then usually the paranasal sinuses are inflamed. With the otoscope (the ear mirror) one sees a reddened eardrum and perhaps a little bit of fluid behind it in case of middle ear inflammation. The oral cavity and the pharynx are usually reddened, the palatine tonsils swollen or, in the case of a bacterial secondary infection, stained with white spots. When coughing, one can hear rattle sounds over the bronchi with the stethoscope, and in case of pneumonia the respiratory sounds are altered over the affected area.
  • Ultrasound, X-ray, Computed Tomography (CT) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): Imaging procedures are usually not needed for a cold. An advanced inflammation of the paranasal sinuses can be seen in ultrasound or X-ray. In order to exclude pneumonia, usually an X-ray is made. CT and MRI are used in dramatic courses of influenza to clarify cardiac or cerebral involvement.
  • Follow-up examinations for complications: If a bacterial secondary infection is suspected, smears of the palatine tonsil, mucus samples or blood tests can provide information about the type of pathogens. In pneumonia, X-rays show the course - is the inflammation after treatment beginning to decline or is it an abscess? When a heart muscle inflammation changes the heart rhythm, which can be controlled with the ECG.

A functioning immune system is the alpha and omega

A well-functioning immune system is the basic requirement to get well over the winter - a vitamin-rich diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, lots of exercise in the fresh air, sauna visits or regular Kneipp treatments are just a few ways to strengthen the immune system. A weakened immune system makes itself noticeable by the fact that one infection replaces the next and the symptoms of the disease are more pronounced.

In addition to diet and exercise, there is also a "cold-Knigge":

  1. Avoid shaking hands as much as possible
  2. Avoid crowds
  3. Nasal "wellness" operate, for example, by inhaling

Only one remedy is available against the real flu: the annual flu vaccine. Especially the elderly and people with chronic diseases are considered at risk - they are the flu vaccine and the pneumococcal vaccine especially to heart.

As the genetic material of the influenza virus changes again and again, the vaccine must be renewed annually, because even in Germany there is a risk of a flu epidemic.

Home remedies and cold remedies

In every family, recipes of home remedies for colds and flu are passed on - be it from the much-talked-on onions of the great aunt or from the chicken soup that has been known since childhood. Many of these home remedies help so well that you can easily cure a cold with it. You should not forget the inhalation, because the swollen nasal mucosa is grateful for this help to mucus solution.

Sometimes, a painkiller or an over-the-counter flu remedy is helpful for headaches and body aches - whether acetylsalicylic acid (ASA), paracetamol or another active substance: Remember never to give children ASA because of the side effects!

Because both the flu and a flu infection are caused by viruses, antibiotics do not help. They are therefore used only if in addition a bacterial secondary infection exists.

For prolonged complaints you should always consult the doctor - so have serious illnesses no chance!

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