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Are summer colds worse than winter colds?

Aside from rainy weather, the only other thing that could put a damper on your summer fun is a dreaded summer cold.

“A summer cold may not always feel worse than a winter one, but I think many people don’t anticipate getting a cold during the warm summer months,” says Dr. Katharine Kelly, a family medicine physician at Aurora Health Care. “While many cold viruses are more common during the winter months, some viruses tend to be more prevalent during warmer months.”

Dr. Kelly explains that the common cold is a catch-all term for a viral upper respiratory infection. The common cold can be caused by many viruses, and according to the National Institutes of Health, summer colds are usually caused by enteroviruses.

These summertime factors may aggravate your cold symptoms:
  • Seasonal allergies. Increased pollen in the air can trigger allergy symptoms.
  • Poor air quality. Being outside can increase exposure to air pollutants, such as smoke or car emissions, which may exacerbate upper respiratory symptoms.
  • Air conditioning. AC feels great on a hot summer day, but it can dehydrate you and may dry out your sinuses.
  • Climate change. Rising temperatures, humidity, extreme weather events and a surge in air pollutants can increase susceptibility to viral infections, change viral infection patterns and impact your immune system’s response to infection.
  • FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). Missing out on summer activities may affect how severe you perceive your symptoms.

It can sometimes feel like a guessing game trying to figure out whether you have a common cold, influenza, COVID or allergies.

“There’s a lot of overlap in symptoms between these conditions, and different people with the same viral infection can experience a different mix of symptoms,” Dr. Kelly says. “If you’re feeling sick and unsure what it is, you can see your doctor and get tested for influenza, COVID and RSV.”

Influenza and COVID are more likely to cause the following symptoms:
  • Fever (temperature greater than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Significant muscle aches
  • Additional common cold symptoms, such as sore throat, runny nose, sinus congestion and cough

According to Dr. Kelly, allergies are not associated with a fever and tend to cause symptoms such as a runny nose, congestion, red and watery eyes, and itchiness in the ears and throat.

At-home cold remedies:
  • Resting
  • Staying hydrated with water, tea or soup
  • Drinking honey to help ease a sore throat and cough
  • Taking warm showers
  • Using a humidifier in your bedroom
  • Using a nasal saline spray or rinse

“Antibiotics don’t work at all to treat the common cold. See your doctor if you have questions about treating your symptoms, or if your symptoms are severe, worsen after initial improvement or are lasting beyond 2-3 weeks,” Dr. Kelly advises.

Acetaminophen and NSAIDs can help with fevers or muscle aches but check with your doctor first. Children and teens should not take aspirin.

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