Summer Cold Symptoms and Why You Get Them (2024)

It’s a glorious summer day with nothing but blue skies and rays of sunshine. Unfortunately, you feel lousy. Your throat hurts, your nose won’t stop running and, wow, is your head throbbing! What’s going on?

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Most likely, you’ve caught a summer cold, says primary care physician Matthew Badgett, MD.

“Cold viruses circulate year-round, so it’s possible to get sick during any season,” he says.

Dr. Badgett shares what you need to know if you find yourself cruising the drugstore for cold medications in the summer.

What is a summer cold?

A summer cold is just what it sounds like: A common cold you get during the summer months (June through September).

Illnesses in winter are more common. People are spending more time inside because of the cold temperatures and holiday festivities. And indoor gatherings, with dry air thanks to central heating, make it easier for cold germs to spread.

But you can absolutely get sick with a cold during the summer, too.

What causes a summer cold?

More than 200 different viruses cause common colds. These viruses easily spread when someone who has a cold sneezes or coughs. You can also catch a cold from close contact with someone who’s sick.

A group of germs called rhinoviruses are the most common cause of wintertime colds. In medical lingo, “rhino” refers to your nose.

“Rhinoviruses are more likely to cause those familiar upper respiratory symptoms, like stuffy, runny noses,” says Dr. Badgett.

Enteroviruses are more likely to blame for your summer cold. Like rhinoviruses, enteroviruses affect your nose and throat, causing upper respiratory symptoms. But enteroviruses are more likely than rhinoviruses to also affect your digestive system.

There are more than 60 different enteroviruses that sicken as many as 15 million Americans each year. Enterovirus infections are more likely to occur during the summer months through October.

Summer cold symptoms

Enteroviruses that cause summer colds can affect your respiratory and digestive systems.

Respiratory symptoms of a summer cold include:

  • Cough.
  • Fever and body aches.
  • Headache.
  • Runny nose.
  • Sore throat.

Digestive symptoms of a summer cold include:

  • Diarrhea.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Upset stomach.

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How do you know if you have a summer cold?

Colds, seasonal allergies and COVID-19 share many symptoms, along with the flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). These similarities can make it challenging to pinpoint what’s causing your symptoms.

Summer cold versus COVID-19

“It’s a good idea to test for COVID-19 when you have upper respiratory symptoms, regardless of the season,” advises Dr. Badgett. “If the test shows you have COVID-19, talk to your healthcare provider about treatment options. Take appropriate steps to prevent spreading the virus to others.”

Summer cold versus allergies

If you tend to get a runny nose, sore throat and watery eyes every summer, there’s a good chance you have seasonal allergies.

“Summer cold symptoms should improve within two weeks,” says Dr. Badgett.

If you’re still blowing your nose weeks later, allergies are likely the cause. Another key difference: Allergies don’t cause diarrhea or an upset stomach like summer colds often do.

Summer cold versus summer flu

Influenza viruses cause the flu. These viruses are different from the ones that cause colds. Flu symptoms are often more severe than cold symptoms and are more likely to become life-threatening. Flu season typically starts in the fall and ends in the spring (October through April).

“It’s very unusual to get a summer flu, but it’s not impossible,” says Dr. Badgett, “especially if you’ve traveled to another country like Australia where the flu season is opposite of ours.”

If you think you have the flu, your healthcare provider can order a flu test and may prescribe antivirals to ease flu symptoms. Dr. Badgett says antivirals like Tamiflu® need to be started within 48 hours of symptoms.

Summer cold versus RSV

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is the name of the virus and the respiratory infection it causes. In most cases, RSV causes cold-like symptoms. But it can be especially dangerous for infants, young children and older adults who are more at risk for life-threatening pneumonia and breathing problems.

Like colds and flu, RSV is more common during the winter. But there’s been an increase in RSV cases during summer months. Tests can show if you or your child are sick with RSV. Most cases of RSV are mild, and symptoms improve in a couple of weeks. But some people need hospitalized care, including IV fluids and oxygen.

With so many viruses circulating year-round that cause cold-like symptoms, Dr. Badgett recommends testing for COVID-19, flu and RSV. He notes that healthcare providers typically don’t test for other cold viruses.

“It’s important to identify or rule out certain viral infections, so you can get the right treatment and lower your risk of complications,” he says.

Help for summer cold symptoms

The same cold remedies that help in the winter are equally effective on summer colds. Try these steps:

  • Follow the BRAT diet if it eases an upset stomach, nausea and diarrhea.
  • Gargle with salt water and try other sore throat remedies.
  • Prevent dehydration by drinking water, electrolyte beverages and tea.
  • Relieve nighttime coughing with cough medications and a hot shower or bath before bed.
  • Soothe a sore throat and cough with honey.
  • Take a nap and get some rest.
  • Use saline nasal sprays and humidifiers to get rid of phlegm and mucus.

Steps to prevent a summer cold

No one wants to be sick, especially on a beautiful summer day. These steps can help lower your risk of catching a summer cold. And if you do get sick, these same steps can help prevent spreading the illness to others.

  • Avoid touching your face, eyes, nose and mouth as much as possible.
  • Disinfect your home and any surfaces you touch.
  • Isolate from others until your fever breaks.
  • Sneeze and cough into the crook of your elbow, not your hands.
  • Wash your hands with warm water and soap or use hand sanitizer.
  • Wear a face mask when you’re around other people.

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Alas, sunshine and summer vibes don’t have magical properties to protect you from summer cold viruses. While it’s no fun being sick in the summer, the good news is that summer cold symptoms are fleeting. In a few weeks, you’ll be back to enjoying your summer, sniffle-free.

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Summer Cold Symptoms and Why You Get Them (2024)

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