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Summer catch: Is a common cold worse during the warmest days?

Is a cold's misery really magnified during the summer? The answer may blow your mind as you blow your nose.
/ Source: TODAY Contributor

Your sonic sneeze just caved in your sandcastle. Your raspy voice can harmonize with the lawnmower. Our condolences.

A summer cold has temporarily snuffed your easy-breathing August fun. It seems utterly unfair at the height of beach and BBQ season.

Even worse, many people swear their summer sniffle is more severe — and more whine-worthy — than the chilly-weather version. But is a cold’s physical misery really magnified this time of year? The answer may blow your mind as you blow your nose: No. Also: Gesundheit.

The symptoms, strength and duration of most common colds that strike during the dog days come from rhinovirus, the same infectious invader that irritates our airways during winter, spring or fall, say doctors and researchers.

Rhinovirus causes up to 80 percent of colds, according to the Journal of Infectious Diseases. Symptoms usually last a week to 10 days. And while outbreaks tend to peak in autumn (back-to-school time) and spring, rhinovirus infects people year round.

“Even when it’s off season for rhinovirus, it towers over many other viruses known to cause colds,” says Dr. Ellen Foxman, an assistant professor of laboratory medicine at Yale School of Medicine.

“To generalize and say summer colds are worse than winter colds is pretty tough. I don’t think I could say that,” Foxman adds. “But if you look virus to virus, you can find that some viruses tend to cause more severe symptoms than others.”

That’s where the legend of the summer cold may have tiny roots in reality.

Enter the enterovirus. Clinically called non-polio enteroviruses, common forms may inflict a runny nose, sneezing and coughing. But enterovirus also can pack a full-body punch by causing nausea and diarrhea. Prime time for this virus is June through September.

Do those factors add to the mythology that a summer cold is particularly nasty?

“Possibly,” Foxman said. “But if you get a cold in the summer, it’s still most likely to be caused by rhinovirus.”

Whichever cold virus may breach your defenses and pause your summer, the struggle is real. Ask Twitter.

Indeed, the annual rise of allergies may bolster the notion of cruel summer colds, leaving sufferers unsure if pollen or pathogens are fueling their symptoms, experts say.

“Probably this is true because if you're constantly fighting a runny nose, you might think you've caught a cold virus,” says Dr. Cameron Wolfe, an infectious disease specialist at Duke University School of Medicine.

Many plants can plug our heads in summer. Peak allergy seasons in Northern and Midwestern states include May to August for grasses, June for trees, and August for ragweed, according to the Weather Channel. In Southern states, allergy seasons run longer.

“There could be a biological interaction between allergies and susceptibility to colds,” Foxman says. “That’s not really worked out yet, but I think that’s possible. It’s definitely intriguing.”

Of course, doctors around the world also preach how to stop those same cold viruses from entering your nose, mouth or eyes in the first place. Cold-prevention habits should not change based on season, experts say.

“Same rules,” Wolfe says. “Lots of hand washing, minimize touching your own eyes or mouth, stay away from sick people and, if you're sick, stay away from others who might be more at risk of severe illness than you.”