QUESTION

I’ve caught a summer cold. But it’s so hot outside, I don’t feel like doing what I’d do for a winter cold—bundle up and drink hot tea and hot soup. What should I do for a summer cold?

ANSWER

Having a cold in the summer can be more miserable than having one in the winter. But there are things you can do to feel better faster even during summer’s hot, sticky temps. The first thing to know is that it isn’t only hot weather that makes colds feel worse in the summer—summer colds are often medically worse because they are caused by a different kind of virus. While the various viruses that cause colds are present year-round, rhinoviruses are most prevalent in winter, and enteroviruses are more common in summer. Both kinds cause muscle aches, fever, sore throat, sneezing and a runny, stuffy nose, but enteroviruses also can cause mild respiratory problems, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, pinkeye and, in rare cases, endanger the heart (myocarditis) and the brain (encephalitis). And while both kinds of viruses are transmitted by coughs and sneezes, enteroviruses also are spread by fecal matter. (Think contaminated bathroom surfaces at highway rest stops, beach and park portable restrooms, amusement park restrooms and all those other favorite summer hangouts.) Another reason summer colds can seem worse than winter ones is psychological. If everyone else is out having summer fun while you’re stuck inside with a box of tissues, it can feel particularly unfair…and lonely. Research shows that feeling lonely can make physical stressors—such as cold symptoms—seem more intense. This is a good time to Skype, Facebook, text and telephone to catch up with family and friends! Time-honored winter cold remedies work just as well for summer colds, including drinking plenty of liquids, such as tea and chicken soup, and eating foods that are easy to digest. If hot drinks don’t appeal when outside temperatures are in the 80s and 90s, room-temperature drinks are OK. But give icy-cold beverages a miss because they can make a summer cold worse. A hot or warm drink first thing in the morning can mitigate morning cold symptoms and may even lessen symptoms for the rest of the day. Ideally, sip the beverage before getting out of bed. (Avoid coffee and alcohol, which can be dehydrating when you have a cold.) Your ability to handle temperature changes is reduced when you have a cold. Going in and out of air-conditioning can make symptoms worse, as can having cold air blasting directly at you, such as in a movie theater. Getting chilled also can make you more vulnerable to other viruses besides the one you already have. If you can’t avoid frigid AC drafts, cover up with a jacket, sweater, long pants, etc. Good sleep is especially important when you’re trying to get over a summer cold (or a winter one). Try a little Benadryl (take half a 25-mg tablet)—it will make you drowsy and reduce your symptoms. Whether to exercise depends on what you feel up to doing. Hard workouts are not generally a good idea when you have a cold, but the most important thing is to dry yourself off after you exercise to avoid getting chilled. A gentle walk outside in sunlight—you can avoid the hottest time of day, of course—helps kill viral infections. What else helps…

  • Bromelain. Taking 500 gelatin-dissolving units (GDU) twice a day of bromelain, an enzyme found in pineapples, can help relieve the pain of a sore throat and achy muscles. Bromelain is generally considered safe, but check with your doctor.
  • Humming. Humming a low tone or an “oooommmm” sound deep in your throat helps the nasal cilia move the virus out of your nose and throat. Try 15 minutes every hour.
  • Honey. Take one teaspoon of honey twice a day to thin mucus and speed healing. Processed honey is better in order to avoid possible allergies from raw honey.
  • Wading in the waves at the water’s edge on a beach or walking in early-morning dewy grass helps fight infections—if you’re up to it, give these outings a try. You’ll probably meet some people to chat with and feel less isolated in the bargain!