It's glorious summer – but that insidious bug responsible for your runny nose and wheezing cough isn't showing any sign of going on vacation.
According to doctors, summer colds can yield many questions from patients: If I have an ordinary cold, why do I feel worse when it's warm out? Are my persistent symptoms really just seasonal allergies in disguise? Is there any truth to the advice that I should "sweat out" a summer cold – or pop a zinc-infused lozenge – if I want to get well in a hurry? Should I skip a friend's barbecue if I've come down with a case of the sniffles?
Here's what you need to know about summer colds, along with how they are – and aren't – different from their cold-weather counterparts. According to Dr. Cameron Wolfe, an infectious disease specialist at Duke University Hospital, individuals are infected with different viruses during the summer months than they are during the winter season.
"We lump a whole series of viruses under the one umbrella of 'common cold,'" Wolfe says. "But in fact, there are many different viruses that cause colds. And each virus has a different seasonality." During the winter, the main culprits behind your sneezing and coughing are rhinoviruses. But during the summer, enteroviruses rear their ugly head. Along with the usual coughing, congestion and fever, enteroviruses are associated with a host of other nasty symptoms – diarrhea, sore throat, rashes and body aches, to name a few. And, Wolfe says, enteroviruses can last longer than other viruses – meaning it might take you a little longer than normal to feel 100 percent again if you're infected.
However, there's also a mental component to summer colds, says Ronald Eccles, director of the Common Cold Centre at the University of Cardiff in Wales. "We feel a summer cold is worse than a winter cold, as we do not expect to suffer from what most view as a winter ailment when it is sunny and warm in the summer," he says. "So there is a psychological aspect to the perceived severity of the cold and its impact on our lifestyle."
Do I Have a Cold, or Do I Have Allergies?
Sneezing, congestion and a runny nose are symptoms that plague individuals with summer allergies – and summer colds. How can you tell the difference? "A viral infection is going to give you a fever, which you're not going to get with allergies," says Dr. Andrew Murphy, an allergist who practices in Downingtown, Pennsylvania. "The other distinguishing factor is that you feel bad with a cold. Your muscles ache, you feel lousy."
Also, Murphy adds, summer colds have a definite life span – one to two weeks – whereas allergies can stick around for weeks at a time. Other distinguishing factors? "Itchy, red eyes tend to be associated more with allergies," says Dr. Aaron Glatt, a spokesman for the Infectious Diseases Society of America. Also, "allergies tend to give you more clear drainage from your nose; colds tend to give you more yellow or greenish type of a drainage."
Are There Summer-Specific Factors That Might Be Making My Cold Worse?
First of all, you probably aren't getting the rest and rejuvenation you need to recover from your cold, Glatt says. If you aren't staying inside when you have a cold, chances are your co-workers aren't, either. If multiple people are going to work sick, there's a higher likelihood that a bug will circulate through the office. Plus, the cranked-up air conditioning might make you more susceptible to catching a cold because it constricts the blood vessels in the nose and throat.
What are Some Ways to Get Over a Summer Cold?
Contrary to popular opinion, research shows that loading up on vitamin C won't help you kick a cold, Glatt says. Antibiotics are a no-no for viral infections. And even though others might advise you to "sweat out" a cold through vigorous exercise, there's no scientific evidence to support that this works. (In fact, vigorous exercise might cause more harm than good if you're still weak from an infection.) In recent years, Wolfe says, zinc has been touted as an effective cold treatment. However, he says, zinc probably isn't as effective for enteroviruses as it is for rhinoviruses – meaning if you have a summer cold, those zinc-infused lozenges, syrups or nasal sprays probably won't make a difference.
At the end of the day, experts say all you can do is let a summer cold run its course. Get plenty of rest. Stay hydrated. Use over-the-counter pain relievers, cough drops, nasal sprays and cough syrups to alleviate your symptoms. Make sure to wash your hands well; the enterovirus is transmitted through both coughing and sneezing and the fecal-to-oral route, meaning you can get it by touching an infected surface or door handle.
And even though it's tempting to ignore your symptoms and head outdoors, stay inside. "If you're sick, you really shouldn't be around people," Glatt says. "In the summer, you don't want to miss out on the fun. But if everybody's getting together to go out for dinner and you think, 'Oh, I'll go out, it won't be so bad,' you are probably infecting everybody at the table and everything around you."
*Read the original article via U.S. News.