This is not cold-and-flu season—unless you have a ‘summer cold.’
It is possible to catch a cold throughout the year, says Dr. Adam Ralko of Mercy Clinic Internal Medicine. “There are different types of viruses that cause colds in patients at different times of the year, but the outcome is the same—all of these viruses result in the same set of symptoms that people have with the common cold,” he says.
However, not every ‘cold’ actually is a cold. “What some mistake as a ‘summer cold’ can also be allergies, which can present in a very similar fashion—sneezing, coughing, runny nose, congestion, fatigue and headache,” says Dr. William Manard of SLUCare Family and Community Medicine. “This is less commonly a problem during the winter respiratory virus season.”
Although colds tend to proliferate in winter months when people constantly are sharing indoor space and are more likely to pass viruses around, summer travel can contribute to viral infections passed from one person to another. “Air travel can certainly make one more likely to catch a cold,” Manard says. “As always, good hand hygiene (washing or using hand sanitizer) and respiratory hygiene (covering coughs and sneezes) goes a long way to prevent this. People who spend more time indoors or around large groups of people are also more likely to catch colds.”
Most adults know the symptoms of a common cold at any time of year: sore throat, sinus congestion and cough are typical. “Low-grade fevers can occur but are less common with cold viruses,” Ralko says. “Surprisingly, the color of mucus does not seem to matter—ugly yellow or green mucus can happen during both viral and bacterial infections. However, if any of these symptoms are progressing beyond 10 days without improvement or if you are getting a lot sicker before then, that may suggest something other than a common cold is going on, such as strep throat, a bacterial sinus infection or pneumonia, and should prompt you to see a doctor.”
Children who have runny noses or other typical cold symptoms but are otherwise playing and acting normally can be treated with plenty of fluids and over-the-counter antihistamines, says Dr. Nancy Holmes of Central Pediatrics. The same rules apply for children as adults regarding when to see a physician. If a child is lethargic and feverish, or complains of an unremitting earache, a visit to the doctor is recommended.
“My general recommendation for cold symptoms is over-the-counter treatment directed at the symptoms one is experiencing, rather than the use of a multi-symptom treatment,” adds Manard. “For example, if one is coughing, using a cough suppressant would be useful. If one is congested, using a decongestant like pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine, unless one has high blood pressure or heart disease—or guaifenesin, which thins mucus secretions, would be more helpful. Using acetaminophen or ibuprofen is helpful for pain and fever. Never use aspirin in children to treat pain or fever.”
In most cases, colds resolve on their own with only symptomatic treatment needed. If your symptoms last more than 10 days or worsen quickly, see your primary-care physician to rule out other illnesses.