Colds and flu

Updated 28 September 2017

Surviving a summer cold

Most of us associate colds and flu with winter but catching a cold in summer when the weather is warm can be even more uncomfortable. This is what you should know.

December is here and you're looking forward to spending your summer holiday relaxing at the beach, sipping cocktails by the pool and braaing with friends – when all of a sudden you're hit with a cold and are forced to stay indoors while everyone else is enjoying the sunshine.

Despite what you may believe, the common cold can occur in summer too. Colds can be caused by over 200 different viruses, and often a summer cold is caused by a different virus to the ones that are to blame for winter colds, according to the National Institute for Health.

Health24's Cyberdoc, Dr Heidi Van Deventer, and Dr Cheryl Cohen, Head of the Epidemiology Centre for Respiratory Diseases and Meningitis (CRDM) at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, explain everything you need to know about summer colds.

"Enteroviruses start to cause problems in spring and summer while rhinoviruses usually cause the winter colds," Dr Van Deventer explains.

Read: Self-help for post-nasal drip

Summer colds may last longer

Dr Van Deventer adds that the recuperation time of summer colds  is often longer than that of winter ones. There are a number of reasons for this:

- People are more active in summer which may worsen symptoms.

- Being out in the sun or swimming in the pool or sea causes your temperature to fluctuate. A consistent temperature is important to speed up your recovery.

- Using air conditioning at work of home can exacerbate symptoms, especially nasal congestion and sneezing.

- People often mistake summer colds for allergies and therefore take longer to start the correct treatment.

- Some summer viruses are more virulent (cause people to become more severely ill or ill for a longer period) than winter ones.

Test yourself: Is it a cold, sinusitis or flu?

Symptoms to look out for

Dr Cohen says that summer cold symptoms are very similar to winter ones. Watch out for:

- Runny or blocked nose

- Sneezing

- Headaches

- Post-nasal drip

- Sore throat

- Fever

- Body aches

- Cough

Read: Why there is no cure for the summer cold

Treating your summer cold

Dr Cohen says that when it comes to treating a summer cold, getting plenty of rest and fluids is the best approach. If you are suffering from headaches, fever or sinus pain, over-the-counter medications can be used to ease your discomfort.

"Drinking lots of water will help clear phlegm and mucus and keep you hydrated, as one tends to become more easily dehydrated in summer, for obvious reasons," Dr Van Deventer explains.

When to see your doctor

Dr Van Deventer suggests booking an appointment with your doctor if you have tried using antihistamines or over-the-counter medications for a few days and your symptoms have not improved.

You should also see a doctor if you experience more severe symptoms including fever, body aches and a bad cough.

The good news is that most colds clear up after a few days, so just hang tight – you'll be able to carry on with your holiday in no time!

Read more:

How far does a sneeze really travel?

8 natural cold remedies

Beware of dehydration this summer


Ask the Expert

Flu expert

Dr Heidi van Deventer completed her MBChB (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) degree in 2004 at the University of Stellenbosch.
She has additional training in ACLS (Advanced Cardiac Life Support) and PALS (Paediatric Advanced Life Support) as well as biostatistics and epidemiology.

Dr Van Deventer is currently working as a researcher at the Desmond Tutu Tuberculosis Centre at the University of Stellenbosch.

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