Summer may be the season when we complain about the heat, but it is also the season when countless thousands of us complain about the cold - the summer cold.
Our noses run, our throats feel raw and scratchy, our heads ache, our eyes water, we sneeze, we cough, we may feel feverish and our stomachs may be upset. From the way we feel it may as well be January as July.
That does not mean, however, that a summer cold won't make you feel more miserable than a winter cold, if that's possible.
"You're probably a little more uncomfortable because of the high humidity and the heat," says Dr. Vincent Gargusi, head of the division of infectious desease at Georgetown University Midical Center.
"It's probably harder to have your own fever superimposed on high temperature and humidity. You're gong to lose even more fluid from your body than you would in the winter," Dr. Peter Terry, an assistant professor of medicine in the division of pulmonary diseases at the John Hospkins Hospital in Baltimore.
One of the standards bits of advice that goes with having a cold is the necessity of drinking plenty of fluids, and that is even more important in the summer, said Terry. "People should make sure they're hydrated. They should be forcing fluids." However, he warns, heart patients whose fluid intake is limited should consult their physicians before increasing their fluid intake.
"Ideally," said Garguis, the summer cold patient should "be somewhere where it's cooler and there's less humidity." Then the patient with a cold in the summer will be no more miserable than a patient with a cold in the winter.
The first thing for a summer cold sufferer to detremine as if he has a cold. That may sound rather obvious, but according to Bellanti about 50 percent of those who believe they are suffering from summer colds may really be suffering from any one of the hundreds of allergies which can make the summer miserable.
"In the ones that turn out to be allergies, the symptoms persist longer than expected," said Terry of Hopkins. "Sneezing may be a symptom the first day or two of a summer cold, but if it persists longer than that it's probably an allergy. (The symptoms are self-limiting with a cold, but not with an allergy . . . Allergies are not associated with fever and are not usually associated with achy joints or achy muscles."
The reason summer and winter colds are virtually indistinguishable to the sufferer is that all colds are really just collections of common symptoms, rather than diseases themselves.
In the winter, your runny nose, cough, sore throat, headache, body aches and fever are likely to becaused by any one of about 100 rhinoviruses, flu, or several other viruses.
In the summer the same symptoms are probably the result of infection by any one of about 50 enteroviruses or the coxsackievirus, which is itself an enterovirus.
The summer's enteroviruses are more likely to cause gastrontestinal symptoms, such as diarrhea and general stomach upset, than the winter's rhinoviruses. But winter colds may be accompanied by the same stomach problems, just as summer colds are often limited to the upper respiratory symptoms.
"In children there may be symptoms of a gastrointestinal nature," said Bellanti, such as "diarrhea and vomiting. These viruses are also a cause of aseptic meningitis, what used to be called nonparalytic polio."
Aseptic meningitis, which causes headache, stiff neck and fever, is usually benign, as opposed to bacterial meningitis, which often causes brain damage or death if not treated in time.
It is helpful to determine whether one is suffering from an allergy or a summer cold, said Bellanti, because the treatments differ. With colds," he said, "the treatment is rest, fluids, aspirin for fever and 'tincture of time,'" that is, letting it run its course.
One can take antihistamines for an allergy, he explains, but for a cold one takes decongestants, because the antihistamines have little effect on the symptoms of the cold.
The specialists may say summer colds are no worse than winter colds, and both are gone in about a week to 10 days.
But during the winter you're likely to be spending those 10 cold days in a warm bed, while your summer cold may be keeping you off the tennis court and out of the pool.