Doctors say touch of the sniffles in summer not uncommon
A sunny beach or reclined chair by the pool is one of the last places most sun bathers would think they would end up suffering from the exhausting effects of the common cold or flu.
According to Dr. Mark Vaughan, a physician with Auburn Medical Group, the symptoms of the common cold can not only creep up, but also stick around in the summer.
"The reason we keep getting colds throughout the year is because we're talking about hundreds of different viruses, if not more, that you can be exposed to," Vaughan said.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention lists more than 200 viruses that can cause the common cold, the most common of which is the rhinovirus. Classic symptoms experienced by cold sufferers anytime of the year can include stuffy or runny nose, sore throat, coughing, headache or body aches.
Vaughan said for some patients certain cold symptoms are harder to kick in the summer.
"Every year I find myself saying to patients that there is something about this year's cold that hangs on and on, and that's usually the cough," Vaughan said.
Smokers have an especially difficult time getting rid of a persistent cough because smoke tends to hinder the reproduction of cells lining the trachea damaged by the virus associated with the common cold.
Vaughan added that it's the amount of time reproduction of those cells takes even in non-smokers that can cause discomfort and a scratchy cough even after other cold symptoms have disappeared.
"Once that layer of cells is killed by the virus a whole new crop of cells has to be grown and that triggers cough receptors until those cells are replaced," Vaughan said.
Vaughan said traveling in packed public transportation systems in the summer might be safer in terms of catching a cold than other times of the year, like winter, when people have colds more often.
Taking the normal precautions to prevent catching a cold should not end during the summer, he added. Hand washing before meals and after using the bathroom and the use of hand sanitizer is always encouraged.
In Vaughan's office, patients that come in with respiratory illnesses of any kind wear paper surgical masks to prevent the spread of disease.
"We do really well for seeing some patients with some pretty contagious respiratory secretions," Vaughan said. "We thank our patients for tolerating it for us because we benefit from it, as do other patients."
When it comes to treating a cold, Vaughan said it's important to remember that antibiotics should not be used to treat symptoms. Since a cold is caused by a virus and not a bacterial infection, antibiotics should not generally be used for a cold.
Instead, Vaughan recommends over-the-counter decongestants, plenty of rest and to stay hydrated, especially in the summer months. In severe cases, Pseudoephedrine can be purchased from behind the counter for major congestion.
Andrea Packheiser, pharmacist at Auburn Drug Co., said in the summer it can be difficult to distinguish if someone is suffering from a cold or allergies.
"If they just have the itchy eyes or sneezing then we're more likely to recommend and antihistamine, but if they have other symptoms, like body aches or a cough, we'll recommend something else," Packheiser said.
In terms of the flu, which differs from the common cold in that it's caused by a different virus, the CDC reported a shorter, milder flu season this year. By May, the CDC announced that 2012 set the record for the lowest and shortest flu season peak since flu surveillance began.
According to data provided by the California Department of Public Health, during the week of May 19, influenza-like illness reported totaled 507. Of those instances reported, 35 were confirmed to be influenza through testing.
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