How to Cool Down a Summer Cold
By Dr. Jon Belsher
We often associate it with wintertime, but the common “cold” isn’t always true to its name. Colds can strike at any time of the year, even in the hot summer months. Season aside, any one of 200 viruses can cause a cold. The classic wintertime cold usually results from rhinovirus infection, which thrives in cold temperatures. Summer colds, on the other hand, most often are related to enteroviruses, which tend to predominate from May through September — jus as Chicago weather starts to get nice and before it turns colder.
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Regardless of the virus behind your summer cold, here are some things you can do to shorten its duration so you can get back to summertime fun.
Give it some time. Colds caused by enteroviruses usually clear up within a week. Because they’re caused by viruses, colds won’t respond to antibiotics (which fight infections caused by bacteria, not viruses). For both of these reasons, you don’t need to rush to your doctor’s office the minute your throat starts to feel sore. If a cold lingers for more than a week or you develop a fever higher than 100.4, however, give your doctor’s office a call. If you have difficulty breathing, chest pain, abdominal discomfort, dizziness or severe vomiting, call your doctor right away or head to the emergency room.
Rule out allergies. Colds and allergies share common symptoms, including sore throat, headache, post-nasal drip and runny nose. Also, because allergies are more likely to strike during the spring and early summer, it can be tough to tell whether it’s a cold or an allergen like pollen or dust that’s behind your sniffles. Some clues: Increased mucus can signal either allergies or a cold, but if that mucus turns cloudy or discolored, it’s more likely caused by a cold. Fever is another indication a cold is to blame; a fever can occur with a cold but is generally not associated with allergies.
Drink plenty of fluids. You should be doing this anyway when the weather gets hot, but drinking lots of water is especially important if you come down with a summer cold. Aim for at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day. If you are exercising or sweating in the hot summer sun, drink even more. Keep in mind that it might be best to cut back on your workout intensity or rest altogether for a few days if you have caught a cold.
Summerize popular wintertime cold remedies. Traditional home remedies for colds, such as soup, steamy showers and hot tea, aren’t exactly appealing in the summertime. So instead, try cooler remedies such as iced tea with honey and an over-the-counter saline sinus rinse to help open your nasal passages.
Take a stroll to the pharmacy. In people over age 6, over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold medications such as nasal sprays, decongestants and throat lozenges or sprays can help ease cold symptoms while the virus runs its course. Talk to your health care provider before giving a child an OTC cold medicine, and only take these remedies as directed. Also, keep in mind OTC cold medications can interfere with prescription drugs you are taking, so check with your pharmacist or health care provider about which OTC remedies are safest for you.
Try an alternative remedy. As a substitute for an OTC medication, you can try vitamin C, zinc or Echinacea for a summer cold. Although research hasn’t proven that these remedies work, they are safe for most people and may help ease your symptoms. Always talk to your health care provider before taking any herb or supplement.
Relax in the sun. A cold may make you feel run down, but look on the bright side: It gives you an excuse to lie on a hammock or by the pool for a few hours. After all, rest is one of the best remedies for a cold. If you do go out in the sun, make sure to protect your skin by applying sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.
Prevent a summer cold. The best way to stave off a summer cold in the first place is to wash your hands frequently. People tend to become slightly more lax in the carefree warmer months, but it’s just as important to be vigilant about hand hygiene at this time of year, when people gather together at picnics and vacation spots. To get the most from hand washing, rub soap between wet hands for at least 20 seconds, making sure to clean under your fingernails. Then dry your hands thoroughly with a clean paper towel. Can’t easily get to a sink while you’re having fun poolside at Recreation Park, Frontier Park, Camelot Park or at an amusement park like Great America? Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer and rub a dime-sized amount on your hands until it dries.
How do you deal with summer colds? Leave your ideas in the comments!
About the Author
Dr. Jon Belsher is the Chief Medical Officer for MedSpring Immediate Care. Board certified in both Critical Care and Internal Medicine, Dr. Belsher received his training at UT Southwestern Medical School in Dallas, TX and at the Mayo Clinic in both Scottsdale, AZ and Rochester, MN. MedSpring has several clinics in the Chicago area including one in Arlington Heights on West Dundee Road (medspring.com/illinois/arlington-heights-immediate-care)
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