August 1, 2016 11:05 am
Updated: August 1, 2016 11:09 am

The dreaded summer cold explained

So it’s summer out and just when you’re ready for some fun, out of nowhere comes the dreaded summer cold. What is the summer cold and is it really that different from a winter cold? Dr. Samir Gupta explains.

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So it’s summer out and just when you’re ready for some fun in that beautiful weather, out of nowhere comes the dreaded summer cold. What is the summer cold and is it really that different from a winter cold?

We define the common cold by a set of symptoms such as runny and stuffy nose, scratchy throat, cough, conjunctivitis, and sometimes low grade fever, all caused by a virus.

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Preschool kids typically get five to seven colds a year, and adults get between two and three. These colds can happen all year round, and although summer colds are less common, they’re particularly notorious.

So what makes summer colds different?

First of all, there are over 200 viruses that can cause colds, but some of these, like rhinoviruses (which are the most common cause of colds), tend to peak in the autumn, whereas enteroviruses are more common in the summer. Enterovirus infections can cause more severe symptoms, and unusual symptoms such as rashes.

That being said, despite the myth that summer colds are caused by enteroviruses, this family of viruses can cause many different ailments, but remains a rare cause of summer colds themselves.

The main reason for the difference between summer and winter colds may simply be psychosomatic –- in other words we probably feel like summer colds are worse because we think we’re not supposed to catch a cold in the summer.

And what about the idea that cold weather in the winter actually predisposes us to colds? We used to think this was a myth, but recent studies have shown that cold air might actually reduce the immunity of cells in our nasal passages, allowing viruses to replicate faster.

This may be one of the reasons that colds are more common in the winter months.

People also sometimes confuse summer allergies with colds.

Allergies will give you a stuffy and runny nose and runny eyes, but the symptoms typically last all season, whereas most colds resolve in seven to 10 days. So if you do have symptoms for most of the summer, it’s probably not a summer cold -– but more likely allergies.

And how should you treat that summer cold?

Unfortunately, like winter colds, there really aren’t any medications that cure these colds. Generally speaking, all you can do is treat the symptoms while you’re waiting for your immune system to do its work. This means decongestants for your nose, acetaminophen or anti-inflammatories for fever and body aches, and dextromethorphan syrups for severe cough. Unfortunately, antibiotics will not help with the common cold.

At the end of the day, the best treatment is prevention. And whether it’s summer or winter, wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer to avoid catching the infection. We also know that lack of sleep and mental stress predispose your body to catching colds, and exercise can actually protect you.

So this summer, make sure to get good sleep, minimize stress, and exercise regularly to fend off the common cold.

More On Call with Dr. Samir Gupta stories on Globalnews.ca

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