Your nose is running, you’re coughing and your throat is scratchy. It feels like you might have a cold—but it’s the middle of summer. How could that be?
Although the common cold is most prevalent in the colder months, it can happen in the summer, as anyone who has ever had to miss a barbecue for sneezing and tissues on the couch can attest. We talked with Isaias Melo-Lizardo, MD, a family medicine doctor with UNC Health Care, about so-called summer colds and how to stay healthy.
So it is possible to get a cold in the summer, right?
Yes, and it’s very similar to a winter cold. Summer colds usually happen between June and October, and the symptoms are very similar. You can get the headache, runny nose, scratchy and sore throat, fever and body aches—all the things that happen when you get a cold in the winter.
Why are colds more common in colder months?
It is believed that the cold weather lowers the immune system’s capacity to fight infection. So, in the cells in the passages of the nose, for example, cold weather lowers their ability to develop antibodies against the attacking viruses, which means it’s easier for those winter viruses to multiply.
Do the same viruses and bacteria cause summer colds as winter ones?
No. Winter colds are generally caused by rhinoviruses, and there are about 200 types or more of those. Summer colds are typically caused by an enterovirus. Those are viruses that live in the gut. For example, polio is a type of enterovirus—but not the same kind as those that cause colds. There are about 60 types of non-polio enteroviruses, and those can cause colds. On top of regular cold symptoms, probably because these viruses live in the gut, they can also cause nausea, vomiting and sometimes even skin rashes.
What should people do to stay healthy during the summer months?
Hand-washing, of course, and try to stay away from people who are sick. If you do catch a cold in the summer, the treatment for a summer cold is the same as in the winter—rest, plenty of fluids and medications such as Tylenol—and it should clear in about seven to 10 days.
What about the flu? Can you get that in the summer?
The flu usually doesn’t appear in the summer. I’ve seen it in August, but that’s very rare. It usually comes later in the year, starting in September and lasting through around March. That’s why we don’t vaccinate for the flu in the summer. The virus might be in the environment, but it doesn’t seem to be active in the summer.
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