What’s the deal with summertime sniffles?
Summertime – a time for soaking up the sun, a time to get away for fun, and a time to catch a cold. Wait a minute – colds aren’t supposed to happen in the summer. How is it possible to come down with sniffles, sneezes and a scratchy throat when the weather is warm and sunny?
It’s well known and expected that during blistery winter months, colds and flu is more common. The explanation for this has always been that during cold weather, we are crowded together indoors making it easier to ‘catch’ a cold just be being in close proximity to someone who has been ill. Since cold symptoms can be caused by more than 200 different viruses and the average child ‘sheds’ the virus for 11.4 days and the average adult 10.1 days after a cold, catching a cold during winter is a more common scenario. Viruses can be picked up either from breathing in when someone sneezes, or by touching surfaces someone has sneezed on to and then touching your eyes, mouth or nose with your hands. The colds we catch in winter are usually triggered by the most common viral infections in humans, a group of germs called rhinovirus. Rhinovirus and a few other cold-causing viruses seem to survive best in cooler weather since their numbers surge in September and begin to dwindle in May.
Why colds can happen in the summer
When summer months arrive, the viral landscape begins to shift. Summer and winter colds are caused by different viruses. The colds occurring in warm weather are probably caused more by non-polio enterovirus infection. The other factor as to why we catch colds in the summer is that cold weather can be replicated by air conditioning or use of fans. Our first line of defense against viruses like colds is the lining of our noses, eyes, and mouth, all lined with mucous membranes. Cold air can inhibit our body’s ability to activate white blood cells in the area to stop the viruses invading. Also, air conditioning dries out the air, which in turn dries out the mucous membranes. This can lead to cracking making it easier for viruses to sneak through leading to a cold.
Symptoms we can expect with a summer cold are similar to winter colds – blocked or runny nose, sneezing, and mild fever, with a cough from the 4th or 5th day, as sneezing improves. The average length of time to get over a cold is seven to 10 days, but they can last longer.
Treating a cold
Since viruses cause colds, do not waste your time on antibiotics. It is strongly advised not to ask for or use antibiotics for viral infections as they cannot treat a cold. Antibiotics are only effective against bacteria which cause infections like strep throat. When people take antibiotics unnecessarily, they become less effective because bacteria build-up resistance to them.
While nothing can cure a cold, there are some remedies that might help ease your symptoms keeping your from feeling miserable. Here’s a look at some common cold remedies to try:
· Stay hydrated – Water, juice, clear broth or warm lemon water with honey helps loosen congestion and prevents dehydration. Avoid coffee, alcohol, and caffeinated sodas which can make dehydration worse.
· Rest – Your body needs time to heal.
· Sooth a sore, scratchy throat – A saltwater gargle – ¼ to ½ teaspoon salt dissolved in an 8-ounce glass of warm water – can temporarily relieve a sore or scratchy throat. You can also try ice chips, sore throat sprays, lozenges or hard candy.
· Combat stuffiness – Over-the-counter saline nasal drops and sprays can help relieve stuffiness and congestion.
· Sip warm liquids – Warm liquids, such as chicken soup, tea, or warm apple juice, can help soothe ease congestion by increasing mucus flow.
· Add moisture to the air – A cool-mist vaporizer or humidifier can add moisture to your home, which can help loosen congestion. Change the water daily and clean the unit according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
· Try over-the-counter cold and cough medications – For adults and children over the age of 5, these medications such as decongestants, antihistamines and pain relievers might offer some symptom relief. However they won’t prevent a cold or shorten its duration and most have some side effects such as excessive sleepiness.