Your nose is running, you’re coughing and your throat is scratchy. It feels like you might have a cold but it’s summer. How could that be? Although the common cold is most prevalent in the colder months, it can happen in the summer. Summer colds usually happen between June and October, and the symptoms are very similar. You can get a headache, runny nose, scratchy and sore throat, fever and body aches—all the things that happen when you get a cold in the winter.
According to the National Institutes of Health, two common viruses are behind most colds. Winter colds are generally caused by rhinoviruses, while summer colds are typically caused by an enteroviruses. Those are viruses that live in the gut. There are about 60 types of enteroviruses that can cause colds. About half of people with enterovirus infections don’t get sick at all. But nationwide, enteroviruses cause an estimated 10 million to 15 million illnesses each year, usually between June and October.
Both types of viruses cause respiratory symptoms like runny nose, sore throat, and congestion, and most often clear up without the help of antibiotics. However, enteroviruses can also cause less common symptoms like fever, gastrointestinal symptoms and conjunctivitis (pink eye).
These potential complications could contribute to the myth that summer colds are worse than winter colds.
Regardless of the season, the viruses that cause cold symptoms are contagious. They are transmitted through tiny droplets in the air that are expelled from a person’s nose and mouth when they sneeze, cough, or talk. Summer colds are common, though less so than winter colds, because cold viruses spread more easily when people are packed into enclosed spaces. Also, cold viruses spread more easily in cold, dry air.
The best way to avoid getting sick (or passing the virus to others) is by covering coughs and sneezes and practicing good hand hygiene. That means handwashing with soap and water for at least 30 seconds after touching shared surfaces. When you can’t get to a sink, use hand sanitizer. And, always avoid touching your nose, mouth, and face as much as possible.
If you catch a cold in the summer, the treatment is the same as in the winter—rest, plenty of fluids and medications such as Tylenol. Since colds are caused by viral infections, antibiotics won’t help cure them. There are some effective over-the-counter medications and home remedies that can help to ease your discomfort. These treatments won’t cure your infection, but they can help make the symptoms less painful.
Sleep is the best cure for most viral infections. Take it easy when you feel tired and get at least eight hours of shuteye nightly. Other tried and true home remedies include drinking plenty of water, especially in the warmer months, to help your body recover from infection. Eat a diet packed with nutrients, like vitamin C, to help your immune system bounce back. Eating chicken soup may also have an anti-inflammatory effect and help clear nasal passages more quickly. The moist, steamy air of a humidifier can help loosen congestion and make you feel more comfortable. If you don’t have a humidifier, try taking a hot shower when you wake up or before bed. Also known as a neti pot, a saltwater rinse can clear excess mucus from your nose and sinuses to help you breathe easier.
While air conditioning can be a real blessing in the summer heat, it can also create a cold, dry environment that viruses love. Your throat can suffer from the dry environment too. Keep the air conditioner at a consistently moderate temperature and use throat lozenges to soothe a sore throat.
The common cold may have similar symptoms to COVID-19 but does not often cause chest congestion and shortness of breath. COVID-19 symptoms may include the development of shortness of breath typically five to ten days after the development of the initial fever. This can be accompanied by fatigue, sore throat, muscle and joint pain, and other symptoms.
Cold symptoms typically go away within 10 days. COVID-19 symptoms often last two weeks. If yours last an entire season, you can probably rule out viral infection.
The summer colds caused by enteroviruses generally clear up without treatment within a few days or even a week. If you’re concerned or your symptoms start to worsen, don’t hesitate to reach out to your healthcare provider. A regular checkup can help gauge both your physical and mental health.