Cold caused by bacteria

What is a bacterial cold?

A cold, also known as the flu, is one of the most common illnesses that affect many children and adults several times a year. A cold is an acute inflammation of the upper respiratory tract, i.e. an infection of the lining of the throat and nose.

The majority of colds are caused by viruses, while a smaller proportion of flu-like infections are caused by bacterial infections. When a cold is caused by bacteria, the affected person or their mucous membranes are colonized by pathogenic bacteria. The annoying bacteria multiply in the mucous membranes of the nose and throat and lead to symptoms typical of colds.

Difference from a cold caused by viruses

Both bacteria and viruses are possible causes of colds. There are differences between the pathogens, the severity of the cold and the treatment.

First of all, bacteria are about a hundred times the size of viruses. Viruses are tiny and very simply structured, they have no cell wall and need human body cells in order to multiply.

In contrast to viruses, bacteria, on the other hand, are living beings, some even need oxygen to survive, others light or chemicals such as sulfur.

Viruses make us sick by destroying our body's own cells as they multiply, while bacteria cause complaints through toxic metabolic processes. A bacterial cold is typically associated with a fever and no significant improvement in symptoms during the day. Pain can be in an affected part of the body, such as the ear, and the infection usually lasts five to fourteen days.

The symptoms of a cold caused by viruses often show up with an increased temperature between 37 - 38 ° Celsius, body aches, a general malaise and a slow improvement of the symptoms, even if left untreated. A viral cold often lasts three to ten days.

While a cold is treated symptomatically by viruses, for example with nasal spray and pain medication, there is the option of antibiotic therapy for flu-like infections caused by bacteria. Antibiotics only work against bacteria and usually relieve symptoms quickly.

Would you like to read more on this topic? - Then the following article might interest you:

  • The viral cold
  • Cold viruses

Symptoms of a cold caused by bacteria

The common cold can cause a variety of symptoms that vary in severity from person to person. The classic symptoms of a cold caused by bacteria include runny nose, cough, hoarseness, and sore throats and headaches.

A cold typically starts slowly and the individual symptoms can appear gradually and / or alternate. The classic cold affects the mucous membranes of the upper respiratory tract, that is, the mucous membranes of the nose and throat. Inflammation of the nasal mucous membrane causes tickling and itching in the nose, the aforementioned runny nose and a watery to slimy-purulent discharge from the nose.

Breathing through the nose is hindered, so that those affected breathe more often in and out through the mouth and smell less good. The voice often sounds noticeably nasal. The inflammation of the lining of the throat causes inflammation of the throat, which causes the throat to scratch and feel dry. People have a sore throat and often pain when swallowing.

In addition, a cold caused by bacteria is very often associated with general symptoms such as fever, tiredness and headache. Fever is particularly common in children. A general feeling of illness and body aches can also occur. If left untreated, a cold can spread through bacteria. A tonsillitis is a common complication. The bacteria can also infect the lining of the larynx, causing laryngitis or even bronchitis.

For more symptoms of a cold, see: Symptoms of a cold

Diagnosing a cold from bacteria

Since a cold caused by bacteria is associated with characteristic symptoms, family doctors first ask about the symptoms of those affected. A physical examination serves to confirm the suspicion of a bacterial cold. The pharynx and nasal mucous membranes are typically reddened and covered with pus.

Depending on the severity of the disease, a small blood count may be required and, if bronchitis is suspected, an X-ray of the lungs, for example.

Treating a cold with bacteria

A cold caused by bacteria often goes away on its own after a certain period of time. In many cases, home remedies such as tea and inhalation of steam are sufficient to alleviate the main symptoms. Pain-relieving drugs such as paracetamol and ASA can effectively help with sore throats, headaches and body aches.

Under no circumstances should children take ASA, as this can cause serious complications in children (Reye's syndrome). In addition to pain relievers and antipyretic drugs, there are other drugs that can be used symptomatically to relieve symptoms.

Decongestant nasal drops can be used to relieve nasal congestion and to treat misplaced ears if an ear infection occurs. Nasal sprays and drops should not be used for more than a week at a time, as they can otherwise cause addiction and constant cold.

With a cough, expectorant cough syrups or expectorant effervescent tablets can help. Cough syrups containing codeine can alleviate the symptoms, especially in the case of dry, irritating cough. The mentioned remedies do not have a healing effect, but rather relieve symptoms.

The only drug that eliminates the cause, namely kills the bacteria, is an antibiotic. Since the majority of colds are viral, colds are often treated with home remedies and the drugs mentioned. In some cases, using an antibiotic can be useful to get rid of the common cold. In any case, it is important that those affected with a cold caused by bacteria take physical care and refrain from sporting activities.

Learn more about the best way to fight a cold here: Therapy for a cold

Do you want to know when you can start exercising again? - Then read our article: Exercise after a cold - from when?

When do you need an antibiotic?

An antibiotic may be indicated if you have a bad bacterial cold. Colds often go away on their own after a week or two. In some cases, however, they lead to complications such as laryngitis or bronchitis.

At the latest when such a complication occurs, treatment with a suitable antibiotic is indicated. Occasionally, viruses cause a bacterial superinfection as part of a cold. If both viruses and bacteria are involved in an inflammation, the use of an antibiotic may also be indicated.

You can find more information here: When do you need antibiotics for a cold?

These home remedies can help

In fact, home remedies play an important role in treating colds. Hot drinks are effective against sore throats. Mint tea or ginger tea are good, for example with lemon juice and honey, sage tea, chamomile tea and many more.

Inhaling steam is very helpful in improving nasal ventilation and loosening secretions. Hot water with salt, sage or chamomile tea or water with a few drops of essential oil such as peppermint oil or tea tree oil are suitable for this. Peppermint oil can also be used to relieve headaches. You can massage one or two drops into your temples with your fingers.

Onions also provide beneficial vapors. You can put a sliced ​​onion on the bedside table and inhale the fumes. That relieve the runny nose. Another popular home remedy for colds caused by bacteria are warm neck wraps. You can do this by moistening a cloth with warm tea and placing it around your neck for about thirty to forty-five minutes.

You can find more home remedies at: Home remedies for a cold


There are no homeopathic remedies that can eliminate bacteria that cause the common cold. However, there are some homeopathic globules that are thought to relieve the symptoms of a cold. Aconitum, Allium cepa, Dulcamara and Gelsemium are used for this.

If you want to learn more about homeopathy for a cold, please read our article: Homeopathy for a cold

What is the path of infection?

Bacterial diseases are usually transmitted from person to person. This often happens through coughing, sneezing, and contact with contaminated hands. The most common way is the droplet infection via the breath. Many people cough and sneeze freely and thus spread the pathogenic germs.

Simply coughing and sneezing into the crook of your elbow can significantly reduce the infection. It is therefore extremely important that those who are sick pay particular attention to hygiene, i.e. cough or sneeze into the crook of their elbows and wash their hands thoroughly.

More information can be found here: How long is a cold contagious?

How contagious is a bacterial cold?

A bacterial cold is very contagious. It is assumed that those affected are particularly contagious, especially in the first days of the disease. Since the bacteria colonize the mucous membranes of the upper respiratory tract, they can be spread with every cough and sneeze.


A cold usually goes away on its own after about eight to ten days. Most bacterial colds are straightforward and typically temporary.

In order to avoid complications, physical restraint and the absolute renunciation of sport are to be observed. A bacterial inflammation can lead to dangerous heart muscle inflammation without physical rest.

In pregnant women and immunocompromised women, it is necessary to watch the progress of a cold. If a larynx or bronchitis develops as part of a cold, appropriate therapy is necessary to positively influence the course of the disease. When dreaded complications occur, both the duration and the severity of a flu-like infection change to different degrees.

Do you want to know when you will finally get rid of your cold? - Then find out more about the Course of a cold or to Duration of a cold