Summer Colds Can be Worse Than Their Winter Counterpart

by James Thompson, M.D. Health Professional, Medical Reviewer

Finally summer, warmer weather and longer days are here. It's nice to have cough, cold and flu seasons (winter and early spring) behind us, but one group of infectious viruses actually thrive during the summer to early fall months. Yes, the dreaded summer cold is waiting to spoil a week and a half of summer for 10-15 million Americans this year.

Summer colds tend to be more intense than common colds of winter. The symptoms can also linger for several days sometimes making you think you have hay fever, but you don't.

What's the difference between a Summer Cold and Common Cold?Summer colds are often caused by a family of viruses called enteroviruses. These are small infectious particles that unlike common cold viruses (rhinovirus, coronavirus and picornavirus) have a preference for warmer weather. Runny nose, nasal congestion and postnasal drainage are complaints associated with both summer and winter colds. But enteroviruses may cause more complicated illnesses which include fever, sore throat, hacking cough, diarrhea, and skin rash.

Summer colds may take longer to shake and have a higher frequency of recurrence. They spread the same way as common cold viruses. Coughing, sneezing or contact with contaminated surfaces (toys, keyboards, door knobs etc.) easily spreads common cold and summer cold viruses. But summer cold related viruses may also be spread by fecal-oral route. That's right, contact with unclean hands or items associated with fecal waste (soiled clothing, diapers or hampers) may transmit this viral syndrome.

Interestingly summer colds go unnoticed by the majority of people infected. Only a small fraction of those infected have moderate to severe symptoms. But if you combine the high level of transmission from contact with others, with the fact that many people are infected and don't know it, you can understand why millions of people suffer from it each year.

How do you distinguish summer colds from seasonal allergies?Well, that's not very difficult because seasonal allergy symptoms last for two or more months at a time. Summer colds typically last for ten days. Runny nose itching and sneezing are the prevalent symptoms for seasonal allergies, with emphasis on the runny nose and sneezing. Diarrhea, hacking cough and skin rash are not commonly associated with seasonal allergy symptoms. Summer colds are more often associated with temperature elevation, which is not a characteristic of allergic rhinitis (despite the misleading name "hay fever").

How Can You Prevent the Attack of the Summer Cold?

-Frequent hand washing is the best defense against summer colds. Keep hand sanitizer available for when hand washing is not possible.

-Clean up shared desk tops, keyboards, phones and other hand held devices before using them.

-Don't let the summer schedule of activities keep you from getting your proper sleep. Get a nap in if you can.

-Keep well hydrated by drinking plenty of water and other fluids but beware of the caffeinated beverages which may ultimately lead to more fluid loss (caffeine increases urine production).

-Try to eat a balanced diet. You can't go wrong with increasing your intake of fresh fruits and veggies especially since many of them are in season.

-Try to avoid contact with sick people. Of course you can't tell who the asymptomatic carrier is, but cut back on some of the hugs and kisses overall and you may avoid the potential harsh consequences.

Final Points-

Summer time often ignites a desire to get on a good exercise routine. Many of us start right out with vigorous running, swimming, spinning or engaging in other aerobic activities, following a relatively inactive winter and spring. Dr. Bruce Hirsch of Infectious Disease stated in the second article referenced below: "Enterovirus is the only infection associated with strenuous activity."

That's not to say you shouldn't exercise. Dr. Hirsch recommends easing into your exercise routine in order to avoid the lowered resistance to infection that may be associated with over doing it.

If you get the summer cold anyway, treatment is identical to that of the winter cold. Fluids, rest, mild pain relief medication, and gargling with warm salt water to soothe your sore throat are in order. See your doctor if you have a fever or are uncertain about your status. Antibiotics do not help summer colds.



James Thompson, M.D.
Meet Our Writer
James Thompson, M.D.

Dr. Thompson completed medical school and specialty training in allergy and immunology at Washington University in Saint Louis. He is board certified in Internal Medicine, Allergy and Immunology. He sees adults and children in Chicago and greater Chicago area. He is also certified in Integrative Nutrition Coaching. Dr. Thompson is dedicated to incorporating holistic nutrition concepts into the treatment of asthma and other allergic diseases in order to achieve better health and reduce the need for medications.