Ahh, mid-summer! What can be better than sunshine and an occasional afternoon thunderstorm, taking a week or two off from work, enjoying time at the beach, on the boat or pool side, spending time with friends and family and eating fresh local fruit and veggies.
Unless, of course, you catch a cold.
While colds in summer are common, they don’t get nearly the attention than in winter when people spend more time indoors and colds combine with flu for a miserable one-two punch.
Colds just seem more appropriate in winter, when the temperatures are frigid, the wind bites, and the days are gray and short. Summer is just too cheerful to be sick.
“I don’t think people have as much sympathy for you when you catch a cold in summer time,” says Sarah Rock, a current cold sufferer who works as a massage therapist and yoga instructor in both Charleston and the Caribbean.
Rock traces her cold back to a sore throat that started on July 8, a day before her dog of more than 15 years, Sophie, got severely ill. Rock struggled with the decision to put her to sleep. The stress and sadness after losing her, she thinks, further compromised her immune system.
She went to a national chain pharmacy for an assessment. A test for strep was negative. Rock was assured it was a cold and that it would pass in a few days. It didn’t. Symptoms have progressed to congestion in her sinuses and, as of last week, into her chest with coughing.
Rock blames herself and summertime itself for the prolonged agony.
“I think having colds in the winter and summer are different. If it were winter, I’d cancel everything and stay in bed. When it’s cold outside, it’s easier to be at home in bed. If it’s nice outside, I feel like I should be productive.”
Colds that originate in the winter and summer, in fact, are different, but the prevention and treatment of them should be the same, says Dr. Edward Galaid, a physician at Roper Express Care in North Charleston.
“I’ve seen plenty of colds this summer,” he says, adding that he saw a half dozen on the day he was interviewed.
Galaid says colds in the winter typically are caused by rhinoviruses and are shorter-lived and more miserable. By contrast, colds in the summer tend to originated with enteroviruses, which last longer and are more nagging in nature.
Adding to the nag, enteroviruses also can include gastrointestinal symptoms, such as stomach ache, nausea and diarrhea
The National Institute of Health estimates that nationally enteroviruses cause between 10 million and 15 million illnesses each year, usually between June and October.
Galaid’s advice is to get medications, mostly over the counter, that treat specific symptoms, rather than a range of symptoms, as many cold medications do.
“Combination medications have a little bit of this and a little bit of that, but usually not enough to target specific symptoms,” says Galaid, who believes in a “cocktail of medications” such as Sudafed for congestion, ibuprofen for pain and an extended cough medication, such a Delsym, for night-time relief.
Galaid stresses, however, that people with other health conditions, such as high blood pressure or an abnormal heart rhythm, check with physicians first before taking medications.
And if patients enjoy Chinese food, Galaid says is a believer in hot and sour soup over the more traditional go-to of chicken soup.
While Galaid says antibiotics will not help a cold, many patients who have a persistent cold develop sinus infections and seek relief with an antibiotic, which also is a questionable practice.
Lynn Woodfin Lee, 50, of James Island, developed what she described as “the worst cold I’ve ever had” early in the week of July 6.
“All I’ve done is gone from the bed to the couch and back to bed. I was lethargic, full of congestion and lot of bad headaches,” recalls Lee, of what she thinks may be her first summer cold.
“I usually work out every day, but I haven’t been able to for a week. ... To make matters worse, Lee says summer is her favorite time of year and that she had to miss out on visiting friends who were vacationing on Edisto Beach.
Finally, she went to her physician who diagnosed her with a sinus infection and prescribed antibiotics and an over-the-counter nasal spray.
But as the concerns over antibiotic resistance grows, many health officials, including the American Academy of Allergy, Asthmas & Immunology, are urging doctors to resist prescribing them.
Antibiotics only kill bacteria, but a whopping 90 percent of sinus infections are caused by viruses, according to the Infectious Diseases Society of America. Recent research also shows that antibiotics won’t change the course of most sinus infections.
One study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, that observed 240 patients with sinusitis found that patients who received no treatment were as likely to get better than those who got antibiotics.
When cold and flu season kicks into high gear in winter, regular warnings about avoiding common surfaces, such as door knobs, and about washing hands get sent out.
Lenox Hill Hospital internist Dr. Keri Peterson, a regular on the “Today” show, has some summer-specific recommendations on avoiding summer colds in the first place.
Peterson urges people to be cautious around that big bowl of chips at summer picnics and other gatherings because “hands carry germs and communal bowls are breeding grounds.” And cover public picnic tables with paper tablecloths.
She also advises to keep a summer sweater handy for quick temperature changes from going the heat of the outdoors to the often air-conditioned chill of indoors.
“Why? When your body temp drops, the blood vessels in your pharynx constrict, making you more susceptible to germs,” says Peterson.
For those who catch one anyway, Peterson is a fan of taking echinacea. Take echinacea, a zinc-gluconate lozenge, and plenty of vitamin C, adding “all of these homeopathic and non-drowsy ingredients have been found to shorten the duration of a cold by almost half.”
Reach David Quick at 937-5516.