Avoid a Summer Cold: 6 Tricks to Stay Healthy
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.
Summer colds are more common than people think
A summer cold usually strikes between June and October, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). They are more common than most people think because winter cold viruses spread more easily since people are in tight, close spaces, says Julia Blank, MD, a family medicine physician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. “We’re more likely to be indoors when it’s cold out,” she says. “Also, cold viruses spread more easily in cold dry air.” Still, people should take precautions to avoid colds all year round. Here’s what you need to know about summer colds.
Summer colds can upset your stomach as well as your head
There are 200 plus viruses that can cause a cold throughout the year, Dr. Blank says. Summer colds are usually from 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 spread not just through respiratory droplets, but also through fecal matter. Wash your hands especially well after you use the bathroom. Keeping your hands clean is one of 50 ways to avoid catching a cold during any season.
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.” More research also shows an alarming relationship between AC use and more frequent visits to ears, nose, throat specialists as well as frequent headaches and mucus membrane irritation, too—both of which can exacerbate symptoms of a summer cold.
Exercise can leave you more vulnerable
Experts commonly say it’s OK to exercise with mild cold symptoms. You don’t want to over exert yourself while you’re sick, especially if you are dealing with a summer cold. During the first few days of some enteroviruses, exercise increases the severity of the disease. “Those who have been sedentary through the winter should gradually ease into physical activities because enterovirus is the only infection associated with strenuous exercise,” Bruce Hirsch, MD, an infectious disease specialist at the North Shore-LIJ Health System in Manhasset, New York, told LiveScience.com. “We go outdoors and exercise vigorously, maybe when we’re not in great shape. That’s when these enteroviruses like to show up.” Another way to determine if it is OK to exercise is by applying the above the neck below the neck rule, according to Kenton Fibel, MD, a family medicine physician specializing in sports medicine at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Anaheim, CA. If you have symptoms above the neck—sore throat, runny nose, or congestion—it’s OK to work out. Symptoms below the neck—wheezing, shortness of breath, and muscle aches—are signs that you should let your body rest and recover, Dr. Fibel says.
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. If you catch these 9 early signs of a cold you might be able to stop it before it gets worse.
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. If you have a summer cold, you should especially avoid alcohol, caffeine, and excessive heat which helps dehydrate, Dr. Blank says.
One clue it’s not allergies: aches and fever
Because summer colds can last for a week to 10 days, people frequently assume their prolonged symptoms are allergies instead of a pesky virus. Allergy symptoms can last days, weeks, or months, and fluctuate depending on the environment, according to Dr. Blank. Colds, on the other hand, resolve after one to two weeks, says Kristine Arthur, MD, an internist at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California. Both conditions tend to cause a runny nose, nasal congestion, and sniffling. The difference in symptoms is that allergies don’t cause fever or muscle aches, Dr. Arthur notes. For another clue, look at your eyes. The eyes of people with allergies tend to be puffy and bloodshot, says Dr. Peterson. Check for these 12 other symptoms and signs that your cold could be something much worse.