Are colds really worse in summer? Seems like it. My handsome husband woke all droopy-eyed with a cold this morning, poor thing, and he looks terrible, but I’ve been taking good care of him. My cure-all potato soup is on the stove and hot ginger tea is in the pot. I put clean sheets on the bed and have him all tucked in. No work for John at all today.
Summer colds are caused by different viruses than winter colds and tend to last longer than the winter variety. In fact, colds in summertime can last for weeks, at times seemingly going away and then suddenly storming back with a vengeance, infectious disease experts say. A winter cold, by contrast, is typically gone in a few days. Why is this?
Some of the things people commonly do in the summer can prolong the illness, like being physically active and going in and out of air-conditioned buildings. Do this for awhile and before you know it, you have “clothespin nose”!
Summer colds, which can hit between June and October, occur only about 25% as often as the winter variety. But summer colds can have more severe, flu-like symptoms, in addition to sneezing and coughing. Many people also mistake a summer cold for allergies, because it just doesn’t seem to leave.
My cousin is still trying to shake off a cold she developed in early May. It began with the sniffles, so she didn’t pay much attention to it at first. She continued to exercise and play tennis. However, she soon developed a fever—uncommon for her, —and a cough and she became overly exhausted. She initially thought she had pneumonia, the symptoms were so bad. By the time she went to see Ed, a doc friend of ours, she had already begun taking a cocktail of Mucinex, cough syrup, Tylenol and Sudafed. (I’m a homeopathic kinda gal myself, but my cousin is not.) Ed prescribed a different cough syrup, but that didn’t work, so he eventually put her on antibiotics.
My friend ended up taking a week off from her high-demand, executive job and ended up missing two weeks of tennis practice, which is unfortunate, since she had planned to play in a tournament. Her husband, William, who caught the cold the third week of her illness, is also still ill.
When I catch a cold, I find that it helps to ramp up my exercise routine to sweat out the cold, but I have recently learned that this practice might actually prolong the illness, which says a lot. I haven’t been sick in a year, but last year and the year before, I was sick for months! Moderate exercise tends to protect the body from illness, but a sudden and strenuous workout can decrease the body’s immunity.
And moving between the hot summer outdoors and cold air-conditioned inside environments can make people more vulnerable to sickness in summer. The sudden chilling lowers the defenses in the nose and throat by causing constriction of the blood vessels. If a virus is already at work in the body, this reduces our immunity.
A summer cold’s symptoms can be a bit surprising. Along with the sniffles, sufferers may also get a fever, diarrhea and an achy-breaky body. Symptoms can also vary depending on people’s ages.
Because summer colds stick around longer than many people expect, they are often mistaken for allergies. Some ways to tell the difference: If you are “droopy-eyed”…meaning your eyelids are puffy and eyes bloodshot, it is probably allergies instead of a cold. Mucus color also is different—green for allergies, clear for summer cold. If your nose and eyes and ears feel itchy or tickly, that really points to allergies, and not to a summer cold.
I am giving John some NOW brand zinc while he is sick. However, in my research, I have learned that taking zinc, which is often advised for warding off winter colds, may not work for the summer variety. The literature on zinc is mixed, but the proposed mechanism is that it might interfere with how the virus attaches inside the body. Since the summer virus attaches differently, it might not work as well. Time will tell.
Enteroviruses and rhinoviruses are around all year. According to further research, it is not yet clear why summer colds tend to be caused by one virus and not the other. Possibly, the summer-cold virus may be more physically delicate than the winter cold virus…but who knows?
Winter colds may occur more frequently than summer colds because colder weather and lack of sunlight decreases the body’s immunity. However, both types of virus thrive where large numbers of people gather, such as schools, public transportation, sports games and airlines flights. Anywhere there’s crowding, you can pick up a cold.