Home Symptoms Cold: causes, tips and home remedies

Cold: causes, tips and home remedies

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 201 views

A runny nose is an inflammation of the nasal mucosa. It usually develops as part of a cold and heals spontaneously after one to two weeks. Other possible causes of a cold include allergies and the use of certain medications. A common cold usually does not require treatment. However, home remedies such as herbal teas can alleviate the symptoms. Learn more about the causes and home remedies for colds.

quick overview

  • Description: Acute or chronic inflammation of the nasal mucosa
  • Causes: e.g. B. Cold, other infectious diseases such as Covid-19 , allergies, toxins, nasal polyps , deviated septum, foreign objects in the nose
  • Diagnostics: Consultation with the patient, ENT examination (including a nasal smear), if necessary additional examinations such as a prick test, blood test, computer tomography, etc.
  • Home remedies: banal colds go away by themselves; If necessary, home remedies to alleviate the symptoms (e.g. inhalation, chicken broth, red light, quark wraps, onion pack, nasal rinse).
  • Therapy: Medical treatment is necessary, for example, in the case of a bacterial infection (taking antibiotics), nasal polyps or a curvature of the nasal septum (surgery).
  • When to the doctor? if you have a cold that lasts a long time, if you have a recurring cold, if you have other symptoms such as fever, etc.

Cold: description

Doctors call a cold an acute or chronic inflammation of the nasal mucosa (rhinitis). The common, acute cold associated with a cold is the most common. But there are also other forms of colds such as allergic colds ( e.g. hay fever ), medicinal colds (rhinitis medicamentosa), gustatory colds (e.g. when consuming spicy food) and vasomotor colds.

The latter is probably based on a regulatory disorder of the blood vessels in the nasal mucosa and can be triggered, for example, by changing from a warm apartment to cold outside temperatures, the consumption of hot drinks or alcohol or by stress.

Rhinitis + Sinusitis = Rhinosinusitis

The inflammation of the nasal mucosa when you have a cold often also extends to the mucous membrane in the paranasal sinuses: increased mucus accumulates as a result of the cold. It offers an ideal breeding ground for germs – an inflammation is the result, which can easily spread to the sinuses. When a cold (rhinitis) and sinusitis (sinusitis) occur together, doctors speak of rhinosinusitis .

Acute and chronic colds

Depending on the duration of the cold, doctors distinguish between acute and chronic colds:

>> Acute colds : Viruses are often the triggers(especially cold viruses): The pathogens settle on the nasal mucosa when the local immune system is weakened (e.g. due to hypothermia, deficiency symptoms or psychological factors such as stress). It is not uncommon for there to be a bacterial infection as well (secondary infection). It can often be recognized by the yellowish-green mucus that comes out when you sneeze or cough.

>> Chronic runny nose : This persistent runny nose is more difficult to treat than acute runny nose. Possible causes of chronic rhinitis are, for example, allergies (including food allergies ), immune deficiencies, cystic fibrosis, congenital dysfunction of the cilia in the airways (mucociliary dysfunction) and too frequent use of nasal drops/nasal sprays. Diseases of the nasopharynx and the paranasal sinuses, which are associated with a narrowing (obstruction), almost always have a chronic cold as an accompanying symptom, such as a curvature of the nasal septum and nasal polyps.

Cold: The most common causes

Typically, a runny nose is a symptom of a cold. But you can also sniffle and sneeze for other reasons. The main causes of colds are:

a cold

A cold is an infection of the upper respiratory tract, usually caused by a virus. Typical symptoms include a cold, cough, hoarseness and sore throat; the patients may also get some fever.

Other infectious diseases

In addition to a cold, other viral infections can also be associated with an acute cold, such as measles, chickenpox, flu (influenza) and Covid-19 . Bacterial infectious diseases can also trigger a cold, for example whooping cough , scarlet fever, diphtheria, tuberculosis and the sexually transmitted disease syphilis (syphilis).


If the body reacts hypersensitively to actually harmless substances, this can manifest itself in a cold, among other things. This allergic cold occurs either only seasonally (hay fever) or all year round (perennial). In the second case, for example, house dust mites (house dust allergy), animal dander (e.g. cat allergy), mold spores (mould allergy) or – more rarely – certain foods (food allergy) are the triggers.

Allergic rhinitis is accompanied by swelling of the nasal mucosa, watery, clear nasal secretion and sneezing attacks with itching. Later the nasal mucosa becomes dry. Conjunctivitis often accompanies the allergic cold.


Various toxins or irritants in the environment or at work can trigger a cold (called toxic-irritant rhinitis). These substances include, for example, sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, ozone, cigarette smoke, solvents, pesticides, metals, lacquers, paints, disinfectants and dust.


Another possible cause of a cold are hormonal changes, such as those that occur during pregnancy, puberty, menopause, acromegaly (overproduction of the growth hormone somatotropin) or hypothyroidism (hypothyroidism). Doctors speak of hormonal rhinitis.

Inflammation of the sinuses (sinusitis)

Inflammation of one or more paranasal sinuses is sometimes caused by infectious agents (bacteria, viruses, fungi). In other cases, non-infectious causes are behind it, for example air pollutants, tobacco smoke or an allergy (allergic sinusitis). Acute sinusitis is accompanied by a purulent runny nose and headache and facial pain. Doctors speak of chronic sinusitis when the symptoms occur more than four times a year or last longer than three months. They are less pronounced in chronic sinusitis than in acute ones.

nasal polyps

These benign tissue growths (tumors) of the nasal mucosa usually only occur in adults. They arise in the paranasal sinuses and grow from there into the main nasal cavity. Above a certain size, nasal polyps can impede nasal breathing and result in snoring, sleep disorders and an impaired sense of smell. If the polyps block the exits of the sinuses, it can lead to inflammation of the paranasal sinuses (sinusitis) with headaches and purulent runny nose (rhinorrhea).

Enlargement of the pharyngeal tonsils (“pharyngeal polyps”)

Pathological enlargements of the pharyngeal tonsils ( adenoids ) are often incorrectly referred to as polyps. They are common in children, obstruct nasal breathing and can trigger night-time snoring. In addition, “pharyngeal polyps” often lead to repeated infections of the upper respiratory tract with cough and runny nose, hearing disorders and repeated middle ear infections.

Deviated nasal septum (deviated septum)

It is based on a malformation of the bony and/or cartilaginous nasal septum, i.e. the septum is not in the midline. The reason for this is either an injury (such as a fracture of the nasal cartilage with subsequent kinking during healing) or a growth disorder (the bony and cartilaginous parts of the nasal septum grow at different rates). Irrespective of the cause, nasal breathing is obstructed in the case of a deviated septum. This favors the occurrence of a cold and/or sinusitis.

foreign body in the nose

Sometimes a foreign object in the nose causes the sniffle. Small children in particular occasionally stick small Lego bricks, marbles, peas, nuts or other small things up their noses. The foreign bodies can get stuck, cause the mucous membrane to swell and often cannot be blown out. In children with a one-sided, purulent, chronic cold, an overlooked foreign body in the nose often turns out to be the cause of the symptoms.


Various medications can cause a cold as a side effect. Then one speaks of rhinitis medicamentosa or drug cold. Possible triggers are, for example, certain antihypertensives (beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors), antihistamines (allergy medicines), antidepressants, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as ibuprofen ), oral contraceptives, PDE-5 inhibitors (anti-impotence drugs) and decongestant nasal sprays/ Nose drops with prolonged use. The drug-related cold usually appears as a “blocked nose”. Some preparations also cause a feeling of dryness in the nasal mucosa, a runny nose (“runny nose”) or what is known as postnasal secretion, i.e. the nasal secretion draining into the throat.

The consumption of intoxicants (such as cocaine) can also lead to a cold.

Causes of rhinitis in children

Children get a common cold much more often than adults because their immune systems are not yet fully developed. In addition, the little ones like to stick something up their noses out of curiosity or play (e.g. marbles, peas) – a common reason for a one-sided, purulent cold in children. A cold that does not heal in the cool season can be caused by enlarged pharyngeal tonsils (“pharyngeal polyps”), particularly in the two to six year old age group.

Cold: ways of infection

Viruses are usually to blame for a cold. Rhinoviruses and coronaviruses are the most common culprits, but sometimes other viruses (e.g., myxovirus, coxsackie virus, or parainfluenza virus) are also the culprits. The viruses are mainly transmitted by droplet infection , for example when a cold patient sniffs another person.

But the pathogens can also be transmitted by touch (contact infection): if a cold patient blows his nose or sneezes into his hand and then touches a doorknob or handrail on the bus, he transmits the virus to it. If a healthy person then grabs this spot and then puts his hand to his mouth or nose, he can become infected with the cold virus.

The susceptibility to a cold infection increases when individual body regions such as the feet or head cool down. To reduce further heat loss, the body restricts blood flow; the vessels of the nasal mucosa also contract – the nasal mucosa becomes dry, which weakens the defense against cold viruses.

Cold: Diagnosis

The doctor will first question patients with a cold (parents in the case of children) in detail about their medical history (anamnesis). This is followed by an examination of the ear, nose and throat area.

The nasal reflection (rhinoscopy) is part of the routine examination at the ENT doctor and allows a look inside the nose. It can bring clarity if the causes of the cold are, for example, swelling and ulcers of the mucous membranes, nasal polyps, tumors, a curvature of the nasal septum or foreign bodies in the nose. There are three forms of rhinoscopy:

  1. In anterior rhinoscopy , the doctor inserts the funnel-shaped end of a forceps-shaped device (nasal speculum) into the nostril to examine the anterior nasal passages and nasal cavity.
  2. Medium rhinoscopy uses a flexible plastic tube or rigid metal tube with a built-in light source and camera. With this nasal endoscope, the doctor examines the main nasal cavity, the nasal passages and the exits of the paranasal sinuses.
  3. For posterior rhinoscopy , he inserts an angled, small mirror into the oral cavity. This allows him to control the back of the nasal cavity.

As part of the ENT examination, the doctor can also take a swab of the nasal secretion and examine it for germs (such as bacteria, viruses) as the cause of the cold.

If necessary, further examinations are useful to clarify a cold:

  • Prick test : The allergy test on the skin reveals whether the cold is caused by an allergy. For example, certain pollen (hay fever), house dust mites, mold, animal dander and certain foods (such as milk protein, legumes, fruit) can trigger rhinitis.
  • Blood tests : If an allergic cold is suspected, the doctor may have a blood sample from the patient tested for allergy-typical antibodies ( immunoglobulins E, IgE ).
  • Computed tomography (CT) : This imaging procedure allows a detailed examination of the paranasal sinuses (if sinusitis is suspected). A CT can also be used to determine the exact position and size of nasal polyps.
  • Tissue sample : If the doctor finds tissue growths in the nose while looking for the cause of a cold, he can clarify whether the tumors are benign or malignant by taking and examining a tissue sample ( biopsy ).

Cold: treatment

Adults get a banal (viral) cold about three to four times a year, children even up to six times a year. Nothing can be done about the cause of a cold-related sniffle. However, home remedies and medication can help to clear the nose.

Home remedies for colds

A banal cold usually does not have to be treated with medication. Most of the time, you don’t even need a nasal spray. The cold will go away on its own after a week or two. If you want to get rid of the cold quickly, you can try the following home remedies.

If you heed the following tips against colds, you will support your healing process:

  • High humidity is good for irritated mucous membranes. Hang damp towels or place a vessel with water and chamomile or essential oils ( eucalyptus , mountain pine ) on the heater.
  • Exercise in the fresh air gets your circulation going. However, you should refrain from sports or strenuous work if you have a cold.
  • Drinking a lot keeps the nasal secretions liquid. However, there is no scientific evidence that drinking more than usual has a positive effect on the course of a cold. It is important that you cover your normal fluid requirements – around two liters per day.
  • Sleeping with your head elevated makes it easier to breathe when you have a stuffy nose.
  • Keep Warm : Keep warm, but don’t wrap yourself up so thick that you start to sweat.
  • Red light applications : Many patients find red light very pleasant when they have a cold.

Inhale when you have a cold

Inhalation loosens mucus from the upper respiratory tract and inhibits local inflammation. To do this, heat the water and put it in a bowl. Sit in front of the bowl and lean over it. Cover your head and bowl with a towel so that no steam can escape. Inhale and exhale the vapor slowly and deeply.

Various additives such as chamomile tea, salt or essential oils can increase the effect.

You can read more about this in the article Inhaling .

Before using essential oils on children, you should always consult an experienced therapist or doctor! The oils can cause irritation of the mucous membranes and respiratory problems.

compresses and wraps

Compresses and wraps with various additives support the body in getting rid of the cold quickly.

Mustard flour compress: Used once a day, a mustard flour compress helps with narrowed or blocked airways.

You can read about how to use the compress correctly in the article Mustard .

Lemon compress : The essential oil of the lemon has anti-inflammatory and expectorant properties, among other things. For the compress, slice an unwaxed lemon. Attach two to three discs to the soles of your feet with a gauze bandage. Pull cotton socks over them. If you want to get rid of a cold quickly, let the compress work overnight.

Horseradish topping : A horseradish topping loosens phlegm when you have a cold. Put a tablespoon of freshly grated horseradish on a gauze compress, fold it in and glue it down. Place the compress on the sinuses for a few seconds (maximum four minutes). Then rub the reddened skin with vegetable oil (eg olive oil). Perform once a day.

Chest wrap : A warm, moist chest wrap can help loosen the mucus in the airways if you have a cold. To do this, roll up a cotton towel from both sides to the middle, roll lengthways in a tea towel. Place the roll with the ends sticking out in a bowl and pour 500 to 750 milliliters of boiling water over it. Leave for 15 minutes.

Wring out the wrap and wrap the inner cloth tightly around your chest . Wrap two more towels over it. Leave on for 20 to 30 minutes, then rest. Use maximum twice a day. The addition of essential oils can increase the effect.

You can read more about this in the article chest wrap .

foot baths

Foot baths are a good home remedy for a stuffy nose.

Rising foot bath : The bath should stop an incipient infection, clear your nose and warm your whole body. To do this, put approx. 37.5 degrees warm water in a container that has room for both feet. Put your feet in.

After a few minutes, carefully pour in hot water until the water is about 40 degrees warm. After 10 to 15 minutes, stop the bath. Dry your feet, put on warm wool socks and rest covered for an hour.

Mustard flour footbath : A mustard flour footbath stimulates blood circulation and loosens stubborn mucus. Fill a footbath or a large bucket with water that is no more than 38 degrees (so high that the water comes up to your calves). Stir in 10 to 30 grams of black mustard flour.

Put your feet in and place a large towel over your knees (to protect against rising fumes). After two to ten minutes, a burning sensation sets in. Then leave your feet in the water for another five to ten minutes. Then rinse your feet thoroughly and rub them with olive oil. After that rest.

Food for colds

Some foods can speed up recovery from a runny nose and cold.

Chicken broth : A proven home remedy for colds is hot chicken soup: it fights inflammation and reduces the swelling of the nasal mucosa.

Garlic : The bulb has a germ-inhibiting and disinfecting effect. An effective dose for colds is four grams of fresh garlic per day. That equates to two to three toes. You can cut the cloves into small pieces and eat them in a salad or on a slice of bread.

Onion : The sulphurous components of the onion have an anti-inflammatory and antibacterial effect. If you have a cold, you can make an onion syrup as a simple home remedy. Preparation: Peel and dice a large onion and place in a clean mason jar. Add two tablespoons of sugar, close the jar tightly and shake. After about two hours, the sweet onion syrup forms. Take one to two tablespoons several times a day.

Blackcurrant Juice : Blackcurrants are high in vitamin C. Dilute the unsweetened juice with hot water and drink in small sips. This can be beneficial when you have a cold or the flu. You can also have a glass with lunch and dinner during the recovery period (convalescence).

Radish : Black radish contains pungent mustard oils and bitter compounds that inhibit bacteria, viruses, and fungi and loosen mucus in the upper respiratory tract. Preparation: For a radish juice, peel a black radish, grate it and squeeze it with a juicer. Take one to two tablespoons several times a day.

For radish syrup , scoop out a radish with a spoon and fill the root with honey. Leave for several hours. Then pour the resulting juice into a clean mason jar. Take a teaspoon several times a day.

Tea for colds

Drinking enough liquid is a good home remedy to get rid of a cold quickly. Water and tea are both suitable. The following medicinal plants can also support the healing process when prepared as a tea:

Cold home remedies for babies

If a baby has a cold, there are other home remedies that can be used than for adults.

Chamomile drops : Instead of decongestant nose drops, you can give children with a stubborn cold and a severely blocked nose, for example, lukewarm chamomile tea with lots of sugar as drops in the nose. Of course, this advice is also suitable for adults with a cold.

Breast milk : Babies with nasal congestion who are still breastfeeding can put a few drops of breast milk up their nose. It contains important antibodies and supports the decongestion of the nasal mucosa.

Onion pack: A cold home remedy that is particularly suitable for babies is the onion pack: cut up a quarter of an onion and wrap it in a cloth or paper towel. Place the packet in a small bowl in the cot or near the bed, but at least four inches from the head. The sulphurous ingredients in the onion scent have an expectorant, anti-inflammatory and slightly antibiotic effect.

Home remedies have their limits. If the symptoms persist over a longer period of time, do not get better or even get worse, you should always consult a doctor.

Medicines for colds

The symptoms of a cold can be relieved with decongestant nose drops, for example. If the cold occurs in connection with a bacterial infection (such as a bacterial sinus infection), the doctor may prescribe antibiotics.

Depending on the cause of a cold, further medical therapy measures may be necessary. If nasal polyps or a curvature of the nasal septum promote frequent colds, the doctor often recommends an operation.

Nasal rinse and nose drops for colds

Some patients do not wait for a common cold to go away on its own. They quickly resort to decongestant nose drops or nasal sprays to clear the blocked nose again. However, the active ingredients contained (eg xylometazoline, phenylephrine) can dry out the nasal mucosa if used too frequently or for a long time.

In addition, the body gets used to the decongestant effect within a short time. Under certain circumstances, the mucous membrane is permanently damaged, which in turn causes further colds (rhinitis medicamentosa). Doctors therefore recommend not using the preparations for longer than a week.

A saline nasal rinse clears mucus and bacteria from the nose. Use either a physiological saline solution from the pharmacy or a saline solution that you make yourself.

To do this, dissolve nine grams of table salt in one liter of boiled water. Then fill this saline solution into a bottle with a spray attachment or pipette (rinse out with hot water beforehand). Now you can put three to five drops or two sprays in each nostril every day. Refresh the saline solution about every two days.

For easier use, you can get a nasal rinsing pot or nasal douche from the pharmacy.

If other symptoms occur in addition to a cold, such as a cold with a cough, expectorant drugs and cough suppressants relieve the symptoms. Painkillers help with headaches or body aches.

Schuessler salts

Depending on how the cold manifests itself, you can try treatment with different Schuessler salts: If, for example, the cold announces itself with sneezing and tingling in the nose, the nose is red and sensitive and possibly also a fever occurs, the number 3 Ferrum phosphoricum D12 recommended. In addition, you can apply No. 8 sodium chloratum in the form of an ointment thinly with a cotton swab in and on the nose.

The concept of Schuessler salts and their specific effectiveness are controversial in science and not clearly proven by studies.

Cold: when should you see a doctor?

A harmless cold usually does not require medical attention. However, it is advisable to see a doctor in the following cases:

  • The cold lasts longer than a week.
  • The cold keeps coming back.
  • The cold is accompanied by other symptoms such as a severe headache, fever or yellowish purulent secretion in the nose.

When should children with a cold see a doctor?

Babies and small children with a cold should be careful: the inflammation of the nasal mucosa can quickly spread to the throat and lungs and then become serious. In infancy, a cold can also lead to drinking difficulties. If a baby gets a cold, it is best to take it to the doctor on the same day. For older children with a cold, a doctor’s visit is advisable if:

  • the general condition of the child deteriorates,
  • the fever rises above 39.5°C and/or
  • the cold symptoms last longer than five days.

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