Summer Colds: Can You Catch a Cold When It’s Warm Outside?

Fact checked by Olga Sadouskaya, MD
Clinical Pharmacologist, Chief Medical Officer

Summer is the perfect time for many fun and energetic activities, such as going to the beach, hosting a BBQ, and swimming at the pool. The warmer months offer you the chance to take part in some of the most enjoyable activities of the year, and no one wants to miss out on them because of a cold.

However, summer colds are a common problem that can make you feel bad for a few days during the summer. Have you ever wondered whether a summer cold is the same thing as a winter cold? What can you do to treat this condition?

Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about summer colds, their causes, symptoms, and treatment.

What is a summer cold? 

A summer cold is nothing more than a common cold that you get during the summer months. Despite the fact that the incidence of colds is higher in the winter, that doesn’t mean that you can’t catch a cold when the weather is warm. Colds can happen year-round, in fact.

Summer colds can also be confused with other seasonal conditions, such as allergies. But unlike allergies, summer colds are viral infections.

The common cold is an infection that affects your upper respiratory tract, and it typically resolves on its own without severe symptoms or complications.

There are many different types of viruses that can cause the common cold; however, more than half of all colds are caused by rhinoviruses. Parainfluenza viruses, respiratory syncytial virus, and coronaviruses can also cause common colds — yes, those coronaviruses, which are part of the viral family of COVID-19. However, most other coronaviruses only cause mild colds. Summer colds are more likely to be caused by enteroviruses.

Like other respiratory viral diseases, the common cold spreads via droplets or aerosols that are released when an infected person talks, coughs, breathes, or sneezes.

How long does a common cold last?

In most cases, you will recover from a cold within 7 to 10 days after the symptoms start. Most people who get summer colds will start to feel better in just a few days, even if it takes them a full 10 days for symptoms to go away completely.

There are some factors that can affect how long a common cold lasts. Children typically get better much faster, while older adults, immunocompromised people, and people with chronic respiratory diseases may need a few extra days to feel better. 

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Summer colds vs. winter colds: Is there a difference? 

There’s no difference between summer colds and winter colds. Regardless of the season, colds are caused by similar viruses. However, the colder temperatures make it easier for these viruses to spread between people, which is why colds are typically more frequent during fall and winter.

COVID-19 and summer colds: Can lockdown weaken people’s immune system?   

Measures like social distancing and lockdowns helped curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic across the world before vaccines and newer treatments became available. But despite the fact that we knew that these measures were necessary, there’s no denying that they have also been difficult to deal with. Being apart from our friends and family for extended periods of time is never easy, even if we know that it’s the right thing to do.

A woman with a summer cold staying indoors because she suspects COVID-19

But can lockdowns also weaken our immune system and leave us more susceptible to other viral illnesses, such as colds? There has been some speculation that this could happen; however, there is no research that supports the idea of a weakened immune response caused by lockdowns. You will probably be more likely to catch a cold after lockdown, simply because the same social distancing measures that prevented you from getting COVID-19 also prevented colds. For most people, getting a common cold a few times a year is a normal part of life.

Mild cases of COVID-19 can cause symptoms that are very similar to those caused by a summer cold, which could lead to some confusion between the two conditions. The best way to identify whether you have COVID-19 or a cold is to take a COVID-19 test, especially if you’ve been in contact with anyone who has recently tested positive.

Common symptoms of summer cold

The first symptoms of a common cold generally appear one to three days after you’re exposed to the virus that causes it. The most common symptoms of a summer cold can include:

  • Nasal congestion or a runny nose
  • Coughing
  • Low-grade fever
  • Mild muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • A sore throat
  • Feeling unwell
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms (vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea)

In very rare cases, people with risk factors can develop complications from a common cold, such as bronchitis and pneumonia. However, this is an extremely rare occurrence, and people who are healthy usually don’t have to worry about complications from a cold.

Can you have the flu without a fever?

Influenza, commonly known as “the flu,” is not the same as a common cold, despite the fact that they have similar symptoms. Influenza is also a viral respiratory illness, but it’s caused by the seasonal influenza virus. 

Influenza can also cause symptoms like coughing, fever, sore throat, and nasal congestion.

Most people recover from influenza without any complications. But unlike the common cold, influenza can be serious and even fatal in some cases. People who have a higher risk of developing severe influenza include:

  • Older adults
  • People with chronic diseases
  • Immunosuppressed people

Despite the fact that fever is one of the most common symptoms of the flu, some people can have the flu without a fever. In very mild cases, your body could be able to fight the infection without a fever. 

Is it a summer cold or an allergy? 

It can be easy to mistake the symptoms of a summer cold for seasonal allergies. Both of these conditions share some symptoms, including:

  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Nasal congestion
  • Coughing

However, there are also certain symptoms that can help you differentiate between them. Some of the symptoms that you could experience due to a summer cold but not due to allergies include:

  • Fever
  • Muscular pain
  • Greenish or yellowish nasal discharge

Additionally, allergies can last longer. Some people experience seasonal allergies throughout spring and summer, depending on where they live. A summer cold, on the other hand, will last anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks, but not longer than that. Because allergies are closely related to your geographical location, you could also experience a change (for better or worse) in your symptoms if you travel to a different location. The symptoms of summer colds, on the other hand, won’t be affected by a change in your location. 

Hot tea as a remedy for summer colds

How to treat summer colds 

You can treat a summer cold the same way you would treat a cold during a different time of the year. Colds don’t require specific treatment. You simply have to take good care of yourself and manage your symptoms until the viral infection passes.

However, there are certain strategies that can help you feel better while your immune system fights a summer cold. Some of these strategies include:

  • Get some rest. When you’re sick, your body needs to focus all its energy on getting better. Additionally, putting more stress on your body could make you feel more tired and make it more difficult for your immune system to eliminate the virus.
  • Drink warm beverages. Warm drinks can be very comforting, but they have other benefits, too. Drinking something warm can soothe your sore throat and help loosen up your nasal congestion, which can provide temporary relief.
  • Stay hydrated. In addition to drinking warm beverages and soups, you also need to drink plain water to make sure you stay hydrated. 
  • Take over-the-counter cold medications. Many over-the-counter medications for colds contain some type of pain and fever relief medication, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, and an antihistamine to relieve congestion. You can also try cough medication or decongestant.
  • Use a humidifier. A humidifier increases the level of humidity in the room where it’s used. This can help relieve symptoms of a cold, such as coughing and congestion, and help you breathe better. It’s also important to stay isolated from others to prevent the virus from spreading.

You should consider seeking medical assistance if you don’t feel better after a few days or exhibit any worrying symptoms. Warning signs include:

  • Severe coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Severe headache or sinus pain
  • Wheezing
  • Fever higher than 101.3 F (38.5 C)
  • Fever that lasts longer than three days or that returns after going away
  • Alterations in your mental status (such as confusion, drowsiness, or irritability)

Colds cause uncomfortable symptoms that we all want to avoid, no matter what season it is. Fortunately, summer colds typically resolve on their own within a few days and don’t cause severe symptoms. However, it’s important to give your body time to rest so that you can recover without any issues. Other measures, such as staying hydrated and using a humidifier, can also help relieve your symptoms in the meantime. Thanks to these techniques, you’ll be able to go back to your fun summertime activities very quickly.

March 22, 2023