Ask Dr. Marla: The dreaded summer cold

By Dr. Marla Shapiro on May 25, 2015

Question

It’s finally warm weather but my whole family is nursing a cold. I didn’t think you could get a cold in the summer. What gives?

Answer

Colds are caused by viruses. While we see an increase in viral illnesses in the winter with close crowding that encourages transmission from person to person, we certainly do see viral colds in the warmer months. However the kinds of viruses we see circulating in the winter are different than those we see in the summer. In addition, we often don’t rest with a summer cold as we are anxious to enjoy the warmer weather and keep more active. That behaviour can prolong a cold.

Experts estimate that colds between May and October occur with one-quarter the frequency of winter colds. Often we might think a cold is an allergy when in fact it is a virus that is giving us our symptoms. With an allergy we often get swollen, itchy eyes. Itchy throat also is more likely to be an allergy.

Summer also has us moving between warm outdoor and air-conditioned indoor spaces. There is evidence to support that the sudden coolness can lower our first line of defense in our nose and throat by narrowing blood vessels.

In the summer, enterovirus is more likely to lead to a cold than the typical winter rhinovirus, but we still do see rhinovirus as a summer culprit. Overall there are some 200 viruses that can lead to a summer cold!

The enterovirus attacks our tissue in our nose and throat as well as ears and our gastric track. The summer enterovirus can cause a fever, sore throat, headache and body aches. There can also be gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea and vomiting caused by this virus.

The advice we give in winter holds through the summer as the route of infection is still the same. Frequent handwashing remains the gold standard for reducing the train of transmission and remember virus can stay active on inanimate surfaces so it is important to clean all surfaces.

Summer colds are usually self limited and only require supportive treatment such as bed rest and staying hydrated. Antibiotics are generally not needed and should not be used. Inappropriate use of antibiotics to treat viruses can lead to antibiotic resistance and the emergence of so-called superbugs.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, June 2015.


By Dr. Marla Shapiro| May 25, 2015

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