An Overview of Summer Colds

Woman about to sneeze and holding a tissue outdoors in the sunshine

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While it's true that cold season is at its peak during the fall and winter, summer colds are a real thing. Colds are caused by viruses, not weather, so you can get a cold at any time of the year. There are more than 200 different viruses that cause colds. In the summer months, colds are often due to non-polio enterovirus.

Summer Cold Symptoms

Summer cold symptoms aren't any different than cold symptoms that can occur at any other time of the year, but the heat and humidity of the summer months can make you feel more miserable. High environmental temperatures can also cause you to sweat, increasing the risk of dehydration.

The most common cold symptoms include:

  • Runny nose 
  • Congestion
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Cough

Of course, psychologically, your symptoms may seem even more impactful when they keep you from fun summertime activities. Colds in the wintertime are often accepted as being inevitable.

If your symptoms are much different from these, you probably have a different illness. You could have a different type of viral infection or even seasonal allergies.

Allergies or Cold?

A summer cold is easily confused with seasonal allergies as the primary symptoms—congestion, runny nose, and sneezing—are the same. There are a few telltale differences between them:

Cold

  • Aches and pains

  • Fever

Allergies

  • Itchy, watery eyes

  • Itchy skin or rash

Summer allergies, commonly known as hay fever, are typically caused by weeds, such as goldenrod, sagebrush, and tumbleweed. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), less than 8% of adults and children are diagnosed with hay fever, though many people with seasonal allergies may go undiagnosed.

Causes

Viruses rely on the cells of other organisms to live and replicate. They are transmitted from host to host when infected respiratory secretions make their way into the mucous membranes of a healthy person. This can occur from direct person-to-person contact, by inhaling small droplets in the air, or by touching something that has the virus on it and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes.

Viruses that cause summer colds spread more easily in crowded places. During the summer, people tend to spend more time at large gatherings like barbecues and public places. At amusement parks, for example, people stand in close proximity while waiting in line for rides, with thousands of hands touching the same railings. Many outdoor concerts and festivals do not have free-standing bathroom facilities and most port-o-johns don't have sinks for handwashing.

In addition, more people travel during the warmer weather and some modes of transportation have higher risks of virus transmission. Cruise ships, for example, are like a small city on the sea, with large numbers of people in close proximity, which makes it easier for infectious diseases to spread from person to person.

Depending on your schedule, you make travel via air more often in the summer. Airplane travel also puts you in close contact with others, increasing the risk of catching a cold. A 2015 review of studies suggests air transportation is a major vehicle for the rapid spread and dissemination of communicable diseases, including outbreaks of serious airborne diseases aboard commercial flights.

However, the World Health Organization (WHO) maintains that there is very little risk of any communicable disease being transmitted onboard an aircraft, because cabin air is carefully controlled recirculated through high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, which trap dust particles, bacteria, fungi, and viruses.

Air conditioning may also contribute to summer colds. In general, viruses spread more easily in cold, dry air. Air conditioners reduce humidity in the room along with making it cooler, setting up conditions where viruses can thrive.

Treatment

The treatment for a summer cold is the same as a cold any other time of year. While there is no cure for the common cold, getting plenty of rest and keeping hydrated can help you feel better sooner. Humidifiers, saline nasal spray, and neti pots can provide effective, natural relief. It is also important to drink extra water when you have a summer cold, especially if you have been in the heat and sweating. Staying hydrated can help thin mucous making it easier to expel.

Over-the-counter medications can also help to relieve symptoms, including antihistamines, decongestants, cough suppressants, and fever reducers. Identify the symptoms that are bothering you and find a medication that treats those—and only those—symptoms. You don't want medications that treat symptoms you don't have.

Prevention

Preventing colds is always the preferred option. Although it's not always possible, there are steps you can take to maximize your potential for avoiding the common cold, no matter what season it is.

Washing your hands is the most effective step you can take to avoid getting sick with any common illness. Wash thoroughly with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. Then make sure you dry them. When you don't have access to soap and water, using hand sanitizer is a great alternative.

Keep your immune system functioning at its best year-round by eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, staying hydrated, spending time outdoors, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep at night.

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Article Sources
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