What You Need to Know to Avoid a Summer Cold | Reader's Digest

What You Need to Know to Avoid a Summer Cold

Summer colds last longer, and often feel make you feel worse than the colds you get in winter. Here, a few surprising ways to keep cold germs away.

By Lauren Gelman
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    A summer cold is more common than you think.

    While summer colds strike less often than winter ones, according to the Wall Street Journal, they tend to hit between June and October and are about 25 percent as common as winter bugs.

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    Summer colds can upset your stomach as well as your head.

    Summer colds are caused by a different virus (enterovirus) than those to blame for winter colds (rhinovirus), says New York City-based internist Keri Peterson, MD, and they can cause stomach upset in addition to respiratory symptoms like sneezing, congestion, and fever. These summer germs are spread not just through respiratory droplets, but also through fecal matter. Wash your hands especially well after you use the bathroom.

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    Avoid freezing-cold air conditioning.

    Moving between the warm outdoors and air-conditioned inside spaces can make people more vulnerable to sickness in summer, according to Ronald Eccles, director of the Common Cold Centre at the University of Cardiff in Wales, in the Wall Street Journal. The chilling "lowers the defenses in the nose and throat by causing constriction of the blood vessels," he said. "If a virus is already present, this reduces our immunity."

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    Exercise can leave you more vulnerable.

    Experts commonly say it’s OK to exercise with mild cold symptoms—the physical activity may even boost your immune system. That's not true for the viruses that cause summer colds, Bruce Hirsch, MD, an infectious disease specialist at the North Shore-LIJ Health System in Manhasset, New York, told LiveScience.com. “Those who have been sedentary through the winter should gradually ease into physical activities because enterovirus is the only infection associated with strenuous exercise,” he said. “We go outdoors and exercise vigorously, maybe when we're not in great shape. That's when these enteroviruses like to show up."

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    Symptoms can last up to two weeks.

    People report that summer colds make them feel less well than their winter colds, with more severe symptoms. It can take up to two weeks to shake a summer cold, says Dr. Peterson. According to an article from McLane Children’s Scott & White Hospital in Temple, Texas, enteroviruses tend to be more resilient than other viruses and thrive in temperate climates, ideally suited to strike in warm, humid summers.

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    Unfortunately, the best remedy is time.

    As with your winter cold, you can treat some of the symptoms with medicine, but you won’t feel fully better until the virus clears your system. Until that happens, Dr. Peterson recommends using lozenges or gargling with salt water for a sore throat; relieving stuffiness with a saline rinse or a decongestant; taking cough medication for coughing; and lowering temperature with a fever-reducer like acetaminophen. On top of all that, hydrate well, get plenty of sleep, and avoid strenuous activity.

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    One clue it's not allergies: aches.

    Because summer colds can last for weeks, people frequently assume their prolonged symptoms are allergies instead of a pesky virus. Both conditions tend to cause post-nasal drip, a sore throat, headache, and congestion, according to GroupHealth, a Seattle-based health care system, but allergies don’t cause fever or muscle aches. For another clue, look at your eyes, says Dr. Peterson. The eyes of people with allergies tend to be puffy and bloodshot.

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