Yep—summer colds *really do* feel worse than most winter colds. Here's how to avoid them, plus how to deal with the not-so-pleasant symptoms if you do catch one.

By Julia Malacoff
August 20, 2018

Photo: Jessica Peterson / Getty Images

Getting a cold any time of year is a bummer. But summer colds? Those are basically the worst.

First, there's the obvious fact that it seems counterintuitive to get a cold in the summer, points out Navya Mysore, M.D., a family physician and office medical director at One Medical Tribeca. "You're having chills and wearing layers. Meanwhile, outside everyone is in shorts and enjoying the heat. It can feel isolating and can be hard psychologically to be indoors for long periods of time when it seems like everyone is out having fun and taking in the most summer has to offer!"

Because everyone agrees they're the worst, we decided to ask docs why people get colds in the summer in the first place, how to avoid getting them, and what to do when you have one. Here's what they had to say. (Related: How to Get Rid of a Cold Lightning Fast)

Are summer colds different from winter colds?

It's important to know that summer and winter colds are usually not the same. "Summer colds are caused by different viruses; they're more likely to be an enterovirus while winter colds are most commonly caused by the rhinovirus," says Darria Long Gillespie, M.D., an ER doctor and author of Mom Hacks.

While this isn't a hard-and-fast rule (there are more than 100 different viruses that can cause a cold), it's part of the reason that summer colds can feel worse-aside from missing out on great weather.

"Compared to the common cold in the winter that tends to cause symptoms localized to the nose, sinuses, and airways, symptoms of a summer cold are more likely to be associated with a fever, and even symptoms like muscle aches, eye redness/irritation, and nausea or vomiting," notes Dr. Gillespie.

So yeah, feeling like your summer cold is way worse than the one you had last winter probably isn't all in your imagination.

Why do you get summer colds?

One thing that's not different about summer and winter colds is how they're transmitted from person to person. "Most viruses that spread are through respiratory droplets," says Dr. Mysore. "You are exposed to those droplets from people around you who are sick, and that could be at home, on a jam-packed subway, at school, or at work."

And while anyone can get a cold at any time, there are certain factors that make you more likely to be unable to fight off a virus. "Being tired, sleep deprived, or fighting a virus already can put you at risk for catching a cold," says Dr. Mysore. People who have compromised immune systems-the elderly, babies, pregnant women, and those with chronic illnesses-are also more likely to show symptoms after coming into contact with a virus, she adds.

Here's how to avoid summer colds.

If you want to skip the summertime sniffling and sneezing, here's how to avoid getting a cold this time of year.

Wash your hands. It sounds simple, but this is a key step in not getting sick. "For one, it's really easy to spread enterovirus by touching a surface that someone who was infected touched," says Dr. Gillespie. "So rule number one is to wash your hands very well and frequently, and to try to avoid touching public surfaces (such as bathroom doorknobs) without washing your hands afterward." (Heads up: Here are five super-germy spots in the gym that might make you sick.)

Take care of yourself. "People who are exhausted and getting insufficient sleep, eating poorly, just overly stressed out, or rarely get exercise are also at higher risk of getting sick-in any season," says Dr. Gillespie. (Just another reason you need more sleep.)

Already have a summer cold? Here's how to feel better ASAP.

Drink plenty of fluids. "Since summer colds tend to come with more generalized symptoms such as fatigue, nausea, and vomiting, it can be more easy to get a little dehydrated in the heat of summer," Dr. Gillespie points out. "So when a summer cold hits, the first step is to hydrate." It's also a good idea to avoid beverages that dehydrate, like alcohol, coffee, and energy drinks, adds Dr. Mysore.

Prioritize air quality in your bedroom. For starters, you might want to avoid overdoing it with the air conditioning. "Air conditioners can make air extra dry and enhance symptoms," says Christopher Harrison, M.D., an infectious diseases physician at Children's Mercy Kansas City. "Maintain around 40 to 45 percent humidity in the home, where you sleep particularly," he adds. And if you use a humidifier, use room temperature water and clean it regularly. Otherwise, mold can get in the air, which can make cold symptoms worse. (Related: The Easy Humidifier Trick to Clear a Stuffy Nose)

Watch how long symptoms last and how severe they are. If they last longer than a week or two, you might be dealing with allergies rather than a cold, according to Syna Kuttothara, M.D., a family medicine and urgent care specialist at Kaiser Permanente in Southern California. Another way to tell? "Cold symptoms start mild, worsen, and then return to mild before disappearing. Allergy symptoms tend to be consistent and persistent. In the case of a cold, the symptoms tend to come on separately. In the case of allergies, all of them will come on at once." Of course, the treatment for allergies is different than if you're dealing with a virus, so this is an important distinction.

Rest up. Lastly, you'll want to give yourself a break. "Get plenty of rest," Dr. Mysore recommends. "It's hard in the summer when there are so many tempting activities outside, but you will be doing yourself a favor by taking it easy at home." (FYI, that might mean staying home from work. Here's why Americans should be taking more sick days.)