- Yes, You Can Get a Cold in the Summer
- Summer Cold or Simply Summer Allergies?
- Summer Colds
- Summer Allergies
- 10 Tips to Cope With a Summer Cold
- This is why you get colds in summer
- Is a summer cold the same thing as a normal cold?
- Are any particular strains of cold more dominant in some seasons?
- What are common symptoms?
- How should you treat a cold in summer?
- Dreaded Summer Cold or Allergies
- Healthcare 101: Do You Have a Summer Cold?
Yes, You Can Get a Cold in the Summer
Your nose is running, you’re coughing and your throat is scratchy. It feels like you might have a cold—but it’s the middle of summer. How could that be?
Although the common cold is most prevalent in the colder months, it can happen in the summer, as anyone who has ever had to miss a barbecue for sneezing and tissues on the couch can attest. We talked with Isaias Melo-Lizardo, MD, a family medicine doctor with UNC Health Care, about so-called summer colds and how to stay healthy.
So it is possible to get a cold in the summer, right?
Yes, and it’s very similar to a winter cold. Summer colds usually happen between June and October, and the symptoms are very similar. You can get the headache, runny nose, scratchy and sore throat, fever and body aches—all the things that happen when you get a cold in the winter.
Why are colds more common in colder months?
It is believed that the cold weather lowers the immune system’s capacity to fight infection. So, in the cells in the passages of the nose, for example, cold weather lowers their ability to develop antibodies against the attacking viruses, which means it’s easier for those winter viruses to multiply.
Do the same viruses and bacteria cause summer colds as winter ones?
No. Winter colds are generally caused by rhinoviruses, and there are about 200 types or more of those. Summer colds are typically caused by an enterovirus. Those are viruses that live in the gut. For example, polio is a type of enterovirus—but not the same kind as those that cause colds. There are about 60 types of non-polio enteroviruses, and those can cause colds. On top of regular cold symptoms, probably because these viruses live in the gut, they can also cause nausea, vomiting and sometimes even skin rashes.
What should people do to stay healthy during the summer months?
Hand-washing, of course, and try to stay away from people who are sick. If you do catch a cold in the summer, the treatment for a summer cold is the same as in the winter—rest, plenty of fluids and medications such as Tylenol—and it should clear in about seven to 10 days.
What about the flu? Can you get that in the summer?
The flu usually doesn’t appear in the summer. I’ve seen it in August, but that’s very rare. It usually comes later in the year, starting in September and lasting through around March. That’s why we don’t vaccinate for the flu in the summer. The virus might be in the environment, but it doesn’t seem to be active in the summer.
Feeling ill? Find a doctor near you.
Summer Cold or Simply Summer Allergies?
No matter what the season, a virus finds the weather perfect to invade your respiratory tract — leaving you sneezing, coughing, and down with a cold.
“A cold is a cold is a cold, regardless of when one suffers from it,” says Randy Wexler, MD, assistant professor of family medicine at the Ohio State University College of Medicine in Columbus.
But in the summer months, when the winter doldrums and associated illnesses seem ages away, it’s easy to write off a cold as just summer allergies. The two are very different conditions — and if you pay close attention to your symptoms, you can usually figure out which is which.
“A cold is a virus and is different from allergies,” explains Dr. Wexler. “The seasonal difference is due to different virus strains in summer and winter.” So just because most people don’t catch a cold in the summer doesn’t mean that you can’t — or that you didn’t.
“Colds, or upper respiratory infections occur all year round, but are more prevalent in the colder months,” says Nancy Elder, MD, associate professor and director of research in the department of family and community medicine at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio.
“The main difference between summer colds and winter colds is how commonly they occur,” says Dr. Elder. But a summer cold just feels worse somehow — it feels wrong to get a cold in the sunny summer weather. “Because colds occur less often in the summer months, I think some people feel a bit put-upon when they get a summer cold — it just doesn’t seem fair,” Elder adds.
So cold-prevention tips are important year-round, even when the sun is beating down. “The most important precaution is hand-washing, and not sharing cups or utensils,” says Wexler.
The common cold and summer allergies have a lot in common. They can both cause:
- Runny or stuffy nose
“Sometimes, it can be hard to tell them apart, especially if someone has not had problems with allergies previously,” notes Elder. Often, “allergies have more watery, runny nose with lots of sneezing, itchy, watery eyes and can change based on physical location (for example, may get better if someone leaves the outdoors and goes into an air-conditioned, air-filtered house).”
Seasonal allergies, such as allergies to grasses and weeds, also strike about the same time each year (depending on the allergy) and persist throughout allergy season. A simple summer cold usually goes away within about 10 days — with or without common cold treatment — and tends not to cause itchy eyes or nose like allergies do.
10 Tips to Cope With a Summer Cold
“Treatment for a cold is the same whether summer or winter,” says Wexler. Here are some cold remedies to help you beat a summer cold and get back to enjoying the heat:
- Take an over-the-counter (OTC) decongestant to unclog a stuffy nose.
- Use a saline spray to irrigate the nose and keep mucus loose.
- Take an OTC pain reliever (like Tylenol) to reduce fever and manage pain.
- Use cough drops and throat lozenges to manage that pesky dry cough.
- Gargle with warm salt water to soothe a sore throat.
- Don’t take an antibiotic.
- Allow your body to rest — get plenty of sleep, and avoid strenuous exercise.
- Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated in the heat.
- Don’t smoke.
- Head to the doctor if you don’t get relief within two days, or you are wheezing.
Allergies, on the other hand, may respond best to OTC antihistamines or prescription nasal sprays.
Though these medications may help you feel better and cope with a summer cold, “all medications have side effects, and some people prefer the effects of the URI to the effects of the medications,” says Elder. “These medicines do not make the URI go away any quicker, they just help you breathe a bit easier or have less of a headache while your body is busy fighting off the infection.”
This is why you get colds in summer
Ever end up sneezing, blowing your nose and feeling, well, coldy during the summer months?
Some put it down to hayfever, others think they’ve picked something up on a plane but rarely do people assume they have the same thing they had in the deep, dark, depths of December. Turns out, colds aren’t caused by the cold.
We spoke to Dr Luke Powles, Lead GP at Bupa Crossrail and Kings Cross Health Clinics, to find out everything you need to know about the summertime illness…
Is a summer cold the same thing as a normal cold?
“There are a number of different strains of the cold; however there isn’t one specifically caused by the warmer months. It may come as a surprise, but the common cold isn’t actually caused by the temperature or seasons at all. It’s caused by the spread of cold viruses.
“Anecdotally I do see more people catching a cold in the winter months, but this may be because we tend to bunch more around others indoors when it’s cold making it easier for viruses to spread.”
Are any particular strains of cold more dominant in some seasons?
“There is some evidence to suggest that the Enterovirus (one type of cold virus) can be more prevalent during the summer months, however you’re likely to experience similar symptoms to other strains of the cold regardless of what time of the year it is.
“It’s not uncommon to mistake a common cold for seasonal allergies as the symptoms can be quite similar (runny nose, sore throat etc.). One quick way of checking is by looking what is in the tissue after blowing your nose. If it is not clear in colour, and is thicker in consistency, then it’s more likely to be a cold.”
What are common symptoms?
“Common symptoms of a cold include a stuffy and snotty nose, sore throat, cough, feeling feverish and sneezing. You may also experience a cough and sometimes vomiting. If you start to experience muscle or body aches you may have caught the flu.”
How should you treat a cold in summer?
“As you would treat a cold in the winter, drink plenty of water, gargle with salt water to help a sore throat, and try nasal decongestant drops or sprays to clear up congestion in the nose. Nasal decongestants should not be used for more than five days as they can have the reverse effect if overused. Take paracetamol, ibuprofen or aspirin to relieve any pain you may have.”
Dreaded Summer Cold or Allergies
If you have had a runny nose in the middle of summer, you have probably wondered if it is a cold — what we call a viral upper respiratory infection — or seasonal allergies.
It’s complicated because allergies and colds cause similar symptoms. Both can trigger attacks for persons with asthma, and a cold can make allergies more difficult or vice versa.
Differences in Symptoms
Both colds and allergies are common, but how do you tell them apart and what can you do about it?
Post-nasal drip, scratchy throat, headache, and congestion are common symptoms of both colds and allergies. Fever with or without body and muscle aches often happens with a cold, but never with allergies.
Although an increase in mucus production can be a sign of either allergies or a cold, a change from clear and colorless to cloudy or discolored mucus is more likely an indication of a cold.
If you remember being around someone who had upper respiratory infection symptoms a few days before you started to feel them, you probably have the same viral infection. These infections, caused by various viruses such as rhinovirus and coronavirus, typically last 3 to 14 days and go away without any specific treatment.
Untreated allergy symptoms last as long as you are exposed to pollens, dust, or other things to which you are allergic.
The time of year can be a tip-off that you are having an allergy flare-up and not suffering from a cold.
Springtime can be tough if you have allergies, especially during those few weeks in late spring when plants and trees are all blooming at once and there is a lovely coating of yellow pollen on everything outside.
If you have mold allergies, rain in the fall or spring may cause your allergies to act up. People allergic to dust mites may suffer more symptoms at other times.
If your allergies worsen in the fall, it is even more important to do what you can to control them because flu season is beginning. Uncontrolled allergy symptoms could worsen your misery if you do come down with a viral illness.
If your year-round allergies are well-controlled with daily medication, you may have learned to check the pollen count when your allergies suddenly go haywire. A friend of mine does this whenever she experiences a sudden onset of runny nose, sneezing, and itching eyes, throat or ears.
It could be a sign of a cold coming on or a spike in the pollen count. If pollen levels are high, her symptoms are probably allergies. If pollen levels are low, she stocks up on cough suppressant and chicken soup. You can check pollen levels in your area at pollen.com.
We all catch colds. Most adults have at least two to three upper respiratory infections per year. This can include influenza, which is frequently much more serious than the typical cold.
Children tend to catch colds more often because of their exposure to other kids and also because their immune systems are still learning to fight off various viruses.
Treating a Summer Cold
Having a cold is generally pretty miserable, but the last time I had a summer cold, I found myself wondering why my cold symptoms felt so much worse than during cold and flu season.
I realized that popular home remedies — like hot tea with honey for a sore throat, and savory soup and hot, steamy showers to open up the nasal passages — just do not sound good when the thermometer outside is already over 80 degrees in Spokane where I live. On top of that, who wants to be stuck indoors on sunny days?
So I switched to iced tea with honey and used a sinus rinse to get some relief. I also took some time to sit outside to help perk myself up.
Attention to your symptoms and environment can help you tell the difference between a cold and allergies so you will know what treatments will bring relief. If you do get a summer cold, realize that your body will usually fight the virus on its own given enough rest, some home remedies and a little bit of time.
We all look forward to summer—time to get away, get outside and have some fun. So what could be more unfair than catching a cold when it’s warm? Most people think of the common cold as a winter problem. But— you can definitely come down with a summer cold, too. Unfortunately, germs don’t go on vacation. The sneezing, sniffling and achiness that accompany it can be miserable when it’s nice outside and you don’t want to be cooped up indoors.
· Summer colds occur more frequently than you might realize.
· Individuals are infected with different viruses during the summer months than they are during the winter season. There are many viruses that cause a cold, and each has a different seasonality.
· The National Institute of Allergy and Infections Diseases estimates that 30-50 percent of colds are caused by rhinoviruses, which are most active during the spring, summer and early fall.
· The other culprit is often enteroviruses. Along with the usual coughing, congestion and fever, enteroviruses are associated with a host of other nasty symptoms – diarrhea, sore throat, rashes and body aches, to name a few. These viruses can last a bit longer than others.
Wait, Do I Have a Cold, or Do I Have Allergies?
Sneezing, congestion and a runny nose are symptoms that plague individuals with summer allergies – and summer colds. How can you tell the difference?
· A viral infection is more likely to be associated with a fever and muscle aches, which you won’t get with allergies.
· Summer colds have a definite life span – one to two weeks – whereas allergies can linger for weeks at a time.
· Summer colds tend to give you more yellow or greenish type of drainage. Allergies tend to give a clear drainage from your nose.
Why Are There Colds in the Summer?
During summer, people tend to be more active, which can lead to stress and fatigue. This doesn’t help your immune system fight an approaching virus.
· Summer time is filled with more time in the air conditioning to “beat the heat.” Air conditioners extract moisture from the air and dry the mucus lining in the nose, which predisposes us to infection. It is also known that viruses reproduce better in a cold nose, so the air-conditioned cool is actually supporting the growth of viruses.
· Travel in and of itself increases the risk of viral infection. If you have already been exposed to the common viruses in your home town, you are less likely to become infected by them. While traveling, you will undoubtedly encounter new viruses, to which you have no immunity. Exposure occurs not only once you arrive at your destination but also all along the way; while moving through airports or train stations, you may come into contact with people from around the world even if you yourself are only going a short distance.
· Long flights pose a higher risk given we are in tight quarters on a plane with over 300 possible sources of viruses (i.e….passengers)! The chances of getting a cold are directly related to the number of hours of exposure. The longer the flight, the higher the risk.
What are Some Ways to Get Over a Summer Cold?
· At the end of the day, all you can do is let a summer cold run its course.
· Get plenty of rest. Your immune system is compromised without rest.
· Stay hydrated. Dehydration is a complication that can make a summer cold seem worse.
· Use over-the-counter pain relievers, cough drops, nasal sprays and cough syrups to alleviate your symptoms.
· Take a warm, steamy shower to open up nasal passages.
· Make sure to wash your hands well; most viruses are transmitted through both coughing and sneezing.
· Even though it’s tempting to ignore your symptoms and head outdoors, stay inside. The summer fun will still be there when you are well. You don’t want to spread your summer cold germs to others!
Remember, hand washing is also key! You want to reduce exposure as much as you can so you can stick to what summer is really about: fun in the sun!
Healthcare 101: Do You Have a Summer Cold?
Nothing puts a damper on summer fun and relaxation like an untimely summer cold. With beach trips and barbecues aplenty, and no widespread illness going around, it can feel particularly unjust. Colds are viral upper respiratory infections and can occur anytime of year — even if they’re most prevalent during winter months. However, a case of the coughs or sniffles might merely mean your allergies are acting up, and you don’t have a cold at all. Here are a few facts to help you decipher the difference.
Summer colds and seasonal allergies certainly share similar symptoms. Both can result in nasal drip, sneezing, congestion, an itchy or sore throat, headaches, and fatigue.
- Fever and body aches indicate you are more likely suffering from a cold than allergies.
- Though increased drainage may occur with both colds and allergies, cloudy, discolored mucus points to a cold.
- Allergies are much more likely to cause itchy, watery eyes and an itchy nose. Also look for dark circles under the eyes.
- Colds often run their course between 3 and 14 days. Allergy symptoms can persist for months, depending on the specific allergies the individual has, and how long they are exposed to the allergens.
- If the same symptoms occur at the same time every year, it’s most likely allergies. Grasses and weeds are the biggest outdoor allergy culprits in the summertime. Dust mites are also particularly bad in the summer, hiding out in beds, fabric and carpets.
- If you develop symptoms after being around another person with a cold, it’s likely that you’ve contracted the virus.
If you keep your year-round allergies under control with daily medication but start feeling symptoms in spite of that, check the pollen count in your area to see if there’s been a sudden increase. If there hasn’t been, you might be getting a cold.
Summer Cold Precautions and Treatments
- Don’t let your guard down just because it’s summer. Wash your hands regularly, and avoid sharing drinks and utensils with others. Also, remember to cover your mouth when you cough and sneeze (generally good life advice, any time of year)!
- Get plenty of rest and drink lots of water.
- Boost your immune system with fruits and vegetables. Good thing so many fantastic fruits are in season!
To treat a cold, you can use over-the-counter decongestants to loosen passageways for some relief while your body fights the virus. Over-the-counter pain relievers can help manage your fever. Antibiotics won’t fight a cold- however, sometimes colds and allergies can lead to more complex upper respiratory issues such as sinus infections or bronchitis. Consider visiting CareSpot or a primary care physician if you think you have cold or allergy symptoms developing into something worse.
When to Seek Professional Care:
If your cold persists over 14 days, by all means seek care from a medical professional.
Pneumonia starts with flu-like symptoms and a fever. If a second, more acute fever develops after the first onset of symptoms, seek medical attention.
Pertussis, or “whooping cough,” also begins with cold systems. Watch for particularly bad coughing spasms and the tell-tale whooping sound. Also, check to be sure that you and your child are up to date on your pertussis vaccinations.
If congestion and headaches persist and you feel painful sinus pressure, you could have a sinus infection, which can result from a cold or allergies.
If it is difficult to swallow due to your sore throat, it’s important to get that checked out to ensure there’s not an infection.
If your cold symptoms are accompanied by vomiting and difficulty keeping liquids down, seek medical attention.