Avoid a Summer Cold: 6 Tricks to Stay Healthy

Updated: Oct. 11, 2022

Summer colds last longer, and often feel make you feel worse than the colds you get in winter. Here, a few surprising ways to keep cold germs away.

Summer colds are more common than people think

A summer cold usually strikes between June and October, according to the National Institutes of Health. They are more common than most people think, mainly because they don’t spread as easily as winter cold viruses, which infect people who are in tight, close spaces, says Julia Blank, MD, a family medicine physician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA. “We’re more likely to be indoors when it’s cold out,” she says. “Also, cold viruses spread more easily in cold, dry air.” Still, people should take precautions to avoid colds all year round. Here’s what you need to know about summer colds.

Pair of hands that are lathered in soap near a faucet of running water.

Summer colds can upset your stomach as well as your head

There are 200 plus viruses that can cause a cold throughout the year, Dr. Blank says. Summer colds are usually from a different virus (enterovirus) than those to blame for winter colds (rhinovirus), says Keri Peterson, MD, an internist based in New York, NY, and they can cause stomach upset in addition to respiratory symptoms like sneezing, congestion, and fever. These summer germs spread not just through respiratory droplets, but also through fecal matter. Wash your hands especially well after you use the bathroom. Keeping your hands clean is one of 50 ways to avoid catching a cold during any season.

Close-up of a running fan.
istock/yungshu chao

Avoid freezing-cold air conditioning

Moving between the warm outdoors and air-conditioned inside spaces can make people more vulnerable to sickness in summer. “The blood vessels in your nose and throat constrict in dry environments, which results in decreased blood flow to the area. This reduces the effectiveness of your immune system because there are less white blood cells,” explains Ashley Wood, RN, a nurse in Atlanta, GA and contributor at Demystifying Your Health. “White blood cells are the part of your immune system that attacks foreign substances, like bacteria and viruses. Due to the discrepancy between the moisture in dry, air-conditioned air and moist, outside air, the blood vessels in your nose is going through this constant cycle of constricting and relaxing, which can increase your chances of getting sick.” Research also shows a relationship between AC use and more frequent visits to ears, nose, throat specialists as well as frequent headaches and mucus membrane irritation, too.

Woman in activewear jogging up a flight of outdoor stairs as the sun is rising.

Take it easy with exercise

Experts commonly say it’s OK to exercise with mild cold symptoms. But you don’t want to overdo it. To figure out if it’s OK to exercise, apply the above-the-neck/below-the-neck rule, says Kenton Fibel, MD, a family medicine physician specializing in sports medicine at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Anaheim, CA. If you have symptoms above the neck—sore throat, runny nose, or congestion—it’s OK to work out. Symptoms below the neck—wheezing, shortness of breath, and muscle aches—are signs that you should let your body rest and recover, Dr. Fibel says.

A trail path running through a forest of green trees.

Symptoms can last up to two weeks

People report that summer colds make them feel less well than their winter colds, and that they have more severe symptoms. It can take up to two weeks to shake a summer cold, says Dr. Peterson. If you catch these early signs of a cold you might be able to stop it before it gets worse.

Woman wearing a plaid shirt holding a mug of tea in both hands.

Unfortunately, the best remedy is time

As with your winter cold, you can treat some of the symptoms with medicine, but you won’t feel fully better until the virus clears your system. Until that happens, Dr. Peterson recommends easing a sore throat with lozenges or gargling with salt water; to relieve stuffiness, try a saline rinse or a decongestant; take cough medication for coughing; and lower your temperature with a fever-reducer like acetaminophen. On top of all that, hydrate well, get plenty of sleep, and avoid strenuous activity. If you have a summer cold, you should especially avoid alcohol, caffeine, and excessive heat which helps dehydrate, Dr. Blank says. And don’t take antibiotics – they’re useless against a virus.

Woman standing outside wiping at her eye with her right hand.

One clue it’s not allergies: aches and fever

Because summer colds can last for a week to 10 days, people frequently assume their prolonged symptoms are allergies instead of a pesky virus. Allergy symptoms can last days, weeks, or months, and fluctuate depending on the environment, according to Dr. Blank. Colds, on the other hand, resolve after one to two weeks, says Kristine Arthur, MD, an internist at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, CA. Both conditions tend to cause a runny nose, nasal congestion, and sniffling. The difference in symptoms is that allergies don’t cause fever or muscle aches, Dr. Arthur notes. For another clue, look at your eyes. The eyes of people with allergies tend to be puffy and bloodshot, says Dr. Peterson. Check for these 12 signs your cold is more serious.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest