Summer colds can really ruin fun in the sun. Here’s how to handle the sniffles that hit between May and October
I’m back and still on the subject of summer. This time it’s the tale of summer colds, one of the occupational hazards of enjoying days of bright sunshine.
For years, I was unaware that there was a difference between summer and winter colds. Then, I noticed that I was getting the sniffles more often during warm weather. Worse, they were full-blown colds, along with chest congestion, a running nose, fever, body ache, sore throat, headache, bad coughs, bone-jarring sneezes, sometimes even diarrhoea.
Over the last couple of years, I tracked my summer and winter colds (yes, I’m a little weird that way), and realised that in balmy Bangalore, the cold weather colds lasted just a few days. Summer colds, on the other hand, played out in full drama for a week and more (my record is over a fortnight), then went away, only to come back with a cussed vengeance.
Dr Deepa Das, a pulmonologist, gives me the back story. Summer colds, she says, are caused by viruses quite different from the winter ones.
To be specific, it’s the enterovirus, which usually causes the summer cold, and the rhinovirus which is responsible for winter sickness. Both types of virus thrive where large numbers of people gather, such as buses, trains, flights, crowded shopping areas, schools and the like. Only, summer colds are tougher to shake off and are more likely to reoccur.
Moreover, in the cooler weather, we tend to snuggle down and rest that cold; in summer, we are out and about, and mostly in and out of air-conditioned buildings. Which, of course, doesn’t help that cold any.
This constant exposure to re-circulated air dries out the lining of the nostrils, making it an open port to viruses.
The other fact to make a note of is, the enterovirus spreads through the faecal-oral route; any contact with one’s own unclean hands or items associated with faecal waste (this includes doorknobs touched by others as well as soiled clothing, diapers, etc) may transmit this virus.
Upping your hand-washing routine in summer would be the wisest move.
On the natural medication front, after echinacea, which for years was the go-to herbal medication for the common cold, now there is the natural antiviral called Gene-Eden-VIR, a combination of green tea, licorice, selenium, quercetin and cinnamon. This is in the form of a capsule to be taken at the onset of cold symptoms, and is fast gaining popularity in the US.
Echinacea and natural antivirals aside, what can one do to make the sniffles go away as soon as possible? Here are some tips.
Try and limit your movement between air-conditioned interiors and the sweltering outdoors.
Given that this enterovirus spreads through the fecal-oral route, wash your hands well and often; wash them with soapy water and wash thoroughly, don’t be in a hurry. Stash a bottle of hand sanitizer in your handbag for when there is no water at hand.
When the cold hits, treat the symptoms that can be treated. Take mild pain relief medication, drink plenty of fluids, rest as much as you can, gargle with warm salt water to soothe your throat, do steam inhalation if that helps.
Traditional remedies like hot tea with honey for a sore throat or a bowl of soup to open up the nasal passages sounds less than ideal in the blazing heat of summer. Switch to iced tea with honey, instead. Drink plenty of fluids so you don’t get dehydrated. Stay off the coffee, though, caffeine increases urine production.
Thoroughly clean phones, desk tops, keyboards and other hand-held devices.
Tone down your exercise regime. Curiously, the enterovirus is the only infection associated with strenuous activity. Although moderate exercise is good for the body in all seasons, any taxing activity will use up the body’s metabolic energy, which would be better employed fighting the summer cold.
Don’t let your summer schedule keep you from getting your proper sleep. Once the cold hits, catch a nap whenever you can. The more rest you get, the less exhausted you will feel. Your body needs to be fit enough to combat that cold.
Try to avoid contact with sick people as much as possible.
Don’t reach for the antiobiotics, they don’t work on the virus. Keeping analgesics, cough medicine and saline drops on hand is the smarter move.
Relaxing in the sun can be good for you because the sun’s ultraviolet rays can kill cold viruses, just as ultraviolet light can kill surface germs.