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More than just a bad day at the golf course

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Joe Poelker

Release Date: 5/11/2012

Head colds - they're not just for winter anymore

Julie Busch, M.D.

Dr. Busch, family practitioner, practices at Kirkwood Family Medicine.

It’s bad enough in January, when you suddenly start sneezing and your nose begins to run. Then comes the scratchy throat, swollen sinuses and low-grade fever. You feel awful, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of sympathy flowing your way. “It’s just a cold.”

But this cold is making you miserable in May, not January. It’s one thing to huddle under the covers and drink hot chicken soup when it’s frigid and blustery outside; it’s quite another to have to sit out the sweetest days of summer because you’re too stuffed up to breathe.

Summer colds actually are more common than you might think. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases estimates that 30 to 50 percent of colds are caused by rhinoviruses, which are most active in spring and summer. Winter colds are more likely to be caused by corona viruses, which tend to attack the respiratory system. The “perfect storm” occurs when the two types of viruses combine, making the cold longer-lasting and more difficult to treat.

Some factors that increase the risk of infection are summer-specific, like air-conditioning and hay fever. Air conditioners remove humidity (moisture) from the air, causing the mucous lining of the nose to dry out and encouraging viruses to grow. Allergies, like hay fever, also disrupt the nasal lining, which may result in more severe and longer-lasting symptoms than a winter cold.

Additionally, more people travel in the summer, exposing themselves to large numbers of people, potentially carrying large numbers of viruses, particularly when confined to close quarters like airplanes or ships. Viruses can live on surfaces such as handrails, doorknobs or telephones for hours, just waiting to claim their next victim.

You can’t avoid coming into contact with cold-causing viruses, but you can lessen your chances of infection by washing your hands frequently and avoiding touching your face as much as possible. Keep in mind, if you experience the same, cold-like symptoms at the same time every year, it’s probably an allergy, not a cold, that you’re experiencing.

Symptoms of a summer cold are no different from symptoms of a winter cold – sneezing, nasal congestion and discharge, sore throat, cough, low-grade fever, headache and malaise. Usually, these symptoms peak on the third or fourth day and begin tapering off around day seven.

Treatment is the same as well – rest, drink liquids and use a humidifier in the room where you sleep. Even though you are anxious to go out and play in the summer sun, physical exertion that leads to stress and fatigue can hamper the immune system’s efforts to fight off the virus. You can help relieve your symptoms with use of over-the-counter decongestants, cough medicine, acetaminophen or anti-inflammatory medication for fever and antihistamines.

If your symptoms continue – or worsen – after 10 days, see your physician. You may have contracted something less common than the “common cold.”


Dr. Busch, a family practitioner, is a member of St. Anthony’s Physician Organization. She practices at Kirkwood Family Medicine, 10296 Big Bend Blvd., 314-543-5943. For a referral to any St. Anthony’s physician, call 314-ANTHONY (268-4669) or 1-800-554-9550.

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