THE RESPIRATORY TRACT'S MUCOUS MEMBRANE How to Maintain Your Health

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 The mucous membranes of the nose, mouth, and throat serve as the first line of defense against viruses and bacteria. It's time to make sure everything is in good working order.

What is the fundamental principle of mucous membrane care?

Moisture is undeniable. Mucous membranes that are healthy either create secretions or are near secretion-forming glands. Their protective role is impaired if they dry out or become irritated. "It's critical to moisten the mucous membranes as much as possible," explains ENT physician Dr. Christine Löber, author of the medical non-fiction book "Immer der Nase nach" (Mosaik Verlag). Because fresh air has a higher humidity content. Regular outdoor activities also help to enhance blood circulation, which aids in mucous membrane renewal. It's also critical to drink adequate water: Throughout the day, drink two liters of water or tea

What are the advantages and disadvantages of nasal oils, ointments, and sprays?

They do coat the nasal mucosa for a brief period and can help to alleviate an unpleasant feeling. "However, this protective coating is not permanent," the specialist continues, "and you only ever reach small districts of the total nasal mucosa." Because infections can also enter the body through the lips and eyes, so-called virus protection sprays have a limited effect. Nasal rinses are beneficial if the nose feels dry and irritated, or if allergies or a chronic cold are present. The nasal cavity can be cleaned with a physiological saline solution using a nasal douche, which cleans the nose of germs, allergies, and mucus. Dexpanthenol ointments aid with crusty and painful regions. Anyone who uses decongestant nasal sprays that constrict the blood vessels excessively or for an extended period is at risk.

Sauna, steam bath, inhalation-is it compulsory in winter?

The sauna cannot be recommended as a panacea, says Christine Löber. "It's just not everyone's cup of tea and not obligatory for keeping mucous membranes healthy." It is true that hot steam, also in the form of inhalations, moistens the nasal mucous membranes in the short term and can have a pleasant effect. "If sauna, steam bath or inhalation do you good - wonderful. Then you can do it completely according to subjective feeling once, twice a week." But the ENT doctor thinks it's much more important to spend regular time in the fresh air, not smoke, drink little alcohol, and generally eat a balanced diet and exercise.

Does gargling support germ defense?

Depends on the active ingredients and the frequency. "Gargling with disinfectant solutions can provide short-term germ reduction in the mouth and throat," says Christine Löber. "However, antiseptic mouthwashes and gargles damage the oral and pharyngeal flora when used excessively and over the long term because they also destroy healthy bacteria." According to Europe-wide research, prolonged excessive use (more than three times a day) may even increase the risk of cancer of the mouth and throat in the long term. And a U.S. study linked too-frequent mouthwashes with the antiseptic active ingredient chlorhexidine to the development of high blood pressure. Gargling with herbal substances such as chamomile or sage tea is less problematic. "Although the mode of action has not been proven, the ingredients may have a slight caring and thus soothing effect," says the ENT doctor. With sage, limit to one or two cups of tea per day: large quantities have a drying effect and can worsen complaints.

Which lozenges are most effective?

Anything that increases saliva production and so keeps the mucous membranes wet is beneficial in and of itself. It's also possible that this is a sugar-free fruit candy. Saliva flow can also be aided by xylitol, which is found in many chewing gums. Throat pills containing hyaluronic have a moisturizing effect. Zinc, on the other hand, is thought to improve the body's defenses, but the added benefit of zinc lozenges has yet to be proven. "Non-prescription lozenges containing anti-inflammatory active components like ibuprofen are particularly attractive due to the local administration, as the stomach is not burdened," Christine Löber adds. "In acute situations, they are effective against pain and inflammatory changes." Some tablets include chemicals that are mildly anesthetic.

What does it feel like to have mucous membranes?

In addition to drinking adequate water, eat foods that are high in water, such as cucumber, melon, or lettuce. Avoid crunchy and hard meals like bread with a particularly firm crust, crispbread, or even chips and crackers if the mucous membranes of the mouth and throat are already irritated or inflamed. Foods that are extremely salty, spicy, or have a high acidity are also annoying. Foods high in vitamin A, such as spinach, pumpkin, kale, or marine fish like mackerel, should be included in the diet more regularly because vitamin A is considered a booster for quick cell healing, especially in the mucous membranes.

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