It doesn’t have to be cold outside for you to catch a cold.
Although it’s more common to get sick in the winter, viruses can circulate year-round. Close proximity to others, lax hygiene, stress, lack of sleep and more can contribute to your likelihood of contracting an illness ― even in hotter weather.
Colds are usually rare in the summer, and are often caused by viruses that are different from those we see in the winter. Now that people are meeting up and seeing each other more, these viruses are starting to circulate again. That means we’re seeing many more “cold viruses” this summer than usual, according to Ellen F. Foxman, assistant professor in Yale School of Medicine’s Department of Laboratory Medicine.
And as anyone who has had a summer cold knows, the symptoms can feel even worse during this time of year. (Shoutout to everyone who has caught a cold lately while living their post-COVID vaccine life).
Looking for ways to keep your sickness at bay? Here is some expert advice on how to take care of yourself and make that nasty summer cold suck a little less.
Wash your hands frequently.
“When you have a cold and are in close proximity to others, it is very easy to spread. Therefore, you should be extra cautious around other people and practice good hygiene,” Robert L. Gordon, an emergency medicine specialist based in Middletown, Rhode Island, told HuffPost.
This means washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water. If you do not have access to a sink and soap, you can use hand sanitizer instead, Gordon said.
Get more rest than you normally do.
Make sure you are resting as much as possible. Take frequent naps and make sure you sleep for seven to nine hours each night.
“Sleep is essential for the immune system to function properly in order to help us fight off the viral bugs causing the cold. The body needs time to rest and recover,” Kristamarie Collman, a family medicine physician at Prōse Medical, told HuffPost.
Cold symptoms such as coughing or a stuffy nose can make it difficult to sleep and get rest. Be careful about the medications you take in the evening or at bedtime. Some decongestants and cold medications have ingredients that may keep you awake, Collman said.
She recommended trying soothing remedies such as steam-filled showers or warm beverages like caffeine-free teas with honey before bedtime, which may make it easier for you to catch some z’s.
Your body gets dehydrated more quickly in the summer. Combine that with your illness, and you could be missing out on a ton of fluids your body desperately needs right now.
“Some symptoms of a cold, such as a fever, can increase your risk of dehydration and fluid loss,” Collman said. “Hydration can help replace fluids you may have lost and assist with clearing congestion and mucus.”
Drink plenty of water or other hydrating liquids such as decaffeinated tea and sports drinks. Avoid beverages that are sugary or caffeinated, including coffee and alcohol, she added.
Take over-the-counter medicine.
Some over-the-counter medications may help you find temporary relief for symptoms such as a headache, sore throat, nasal congestion and cough.
Common over-the-counter medicines for a cold include acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Gordon said it’s important to speak to your physician or pharmacist about which over-the-counter medication you should use to feel better.
Use a humidifier, especially if you’re sitting in an air-conditioned room.
More humidity in the summer might sound like the last thing you want, but it can help alleviate your symptoms ― particularly if you’re experiencing a runny nose or dry cough. A humidifier adds moisture to the air, which can help decrease irritation in the nose and throat, Collman said.
This is especially important when you’re indoors in the cool AC, beating the summer heat.
“While there is no specific scientific evidence that air conditioners can directly cause colds, too much AC may dry out the inside lining of your nose,” Collman said. “If the mucus membranes are dry, this can worsen cold symptoms such as a stuffy nose and sore throat.”
Avoid spending an extended amount of time in the sun.
While you may want to catch some rays outdoors ― who hasn’t thought they could “bake” their cold away? ― be careful. Being in summer heat for too long can aggravate your symptoms, so stick to 30 minutes or less.
“The summer temperatures outside can increase the risk for dehydration and often make symptoms feel worse. Therefore, it’s important to avoid extended periods of time in the sun,” Collman said.
Use a saltwater gargle.
If you have a sore throat, gargling salt water may reduce irritation and discomfort.
“Saltwater gargles are effective for killing bacteria in the throat while loosening mucus and easing pain,” Bindiya Gandhi, an integrative family medicine physician at Revive Atlanta MD, told HuffPost. She recommended adding a teaspoon of salt to a cup of warm water and gargling the mixture.
If you have a fever, use a cold compress.
Feeling warm? In addition to staying hydrated and resting, place a cold compress on your forehead to cool down and reduce your temperature, Gandhi said. To make your compress, dip a washcloth in cool water. You can also stick a cooling gel eye mask into the freezer before putting it on.
Most fevers go away on their own within one to three days. If your fever persists for more than three days, contact your physician, Gandhi said.
Refrain from excessive activity.
Hold off on resuming your intense workout regimen or lifting heavy objects for a few days. Even walks outdoors in the heat may get too strenuous.
“When you have a cold, your body is working harder, and therefore, you may feel fatigued,” Collman said. “Engaging in excessive activity could make you feel extremely drained, so it’s best to rest or, if necessary, engage in light activity.”
If your cold gets worse, see your doctor.
Cold symptoms can last anywhere from a couple of days to two weeks. Summer colds can have similar symptoms to the flu, so it can be difficult to tell the difference between the two illnesses based on symptoms alone. Generally, the flu is worse than a cold, and symptoms are more intense, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If you start experiencing flu-like symptoms such as a fever, chills or difficulty breathing, then see a doctor as soon as you can. For the flu, there are effective medications that can make the disease milder if the diagnosis is made early, Foxman said.
“There is also a lot of overlap between cold symptoms and a mild COVID infection,” she said.
If you are unsure of whether you have COVID-19 or a cold, you can get tested at a health center near you.
“Make sure to take extra precautions about not exposing other people to an infection, even if the symptoms seem to be mild,” Foxman added.
Stay home from work and social gatherings for a little extra time even after your symptoms are gone, and continue to wear a mask and wash your hands.