While much of America seems to be lifting restrictions on states of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic, life seems to be returning to a new-ish normal. That includes the return of the common cold, as most viruses used to be thought of before SARS-Cov-2 hit the scene and shook our lives up. The drop in COVID-19 cases is great, but that means we're mingling more and masking less--and asking, "Is something going around?" seems to be something we forgot ever happened.

"My throat hurts." The dreaded words came a few weeks ago from my son after our family took a trip to **********, Alabama to visit family. Family we'd not seen in a long, long time and on an airplane--something we'd also not been on in a long, long time.

We took all the precautions we could--my husband is vaccinated against COVID-19 but I am not, nor is my 10-year-old son. A bit of a germaphobe before COVID-19 was ever heard of, I was always the one who covered my face and brought my Thieves spray on the plane and sprayed everything I even thought I might come in contact with down. We've not been sick or had any issues other than a pretty heavy allergy reaction this spring since January of 2020, and we were as good to go as we'd ever be.

So initially, I thought he was suffering from allergies. New place, new plants, new pollen. We are an allergy reactive bunch, so didn't find it too unusual that his nose was a bit stuffy and his throat a bit sore on that last day of our trip. Post-nasal drip, of course.

Until a few days after we returned home. My husband said, "I think I caught his cold."

COLD? Who has a cold???? No one had a cold! Who even UTTERED those words in this day and age? He did NOT have a cold; he had allergies and clearly, so did my husband.

Except...a few days later, I lost my voice. And had such a sore throat that I couldn't sleep because the pain of swallowing was so bad.

Yes, Virginia, summer colds DO exist still and it's important to know the signs and symptoms.

What Is A Summer Cold?

In a few words? It's a cold you catch in the summertime. A cold is simply a virus anyway, and there are tons and tons and tons of them roaming around at any given moment. While they seem more prevalent in the winter, that's likely because being close inside during colder months means we're more exposed to whatever critters are running around. Traditionally in the summer, we space out more, do more things that require more handwashing and generally aren't in each other's bubbles as much as we are in winter. But, it's just as possible to catch a cold in the summer as it is in the winter.

Since COVID, the issue is wondering whether or not your cold symptoms are actually COVID symptoms. The truth is, there's a lot of overlap. And, infectious disease experts believe we may see more summer colds than we typically do. In an article in Prevention, infectious disease specialist Dr. Amesh Adalja said that because our immune systems haven't been exposed to certain viruses that typically circulate year-round, we may see a rise in summer colds this year. Dr. Adalja is a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, and echoes what many of us natural mamas have been saying for the last year and a half of isolated quarantine.

Summer Cold Increase After COVID-19

When we're isolated and not exposed to many of the viruses that roam around whether we're in quarantine or not, our bodies don't have the ability to create antibodies and create that beautiful 'herd immunity effect' we hear so much about. Dr. Adalja says the opening of our country back up means we're going to be interacting more with others. That also means that we're likely to see more respiratory virus transmission (cold) as people interact more. In fact, Dr. Adalja says it's already being seen and that mirrors the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) recent health advisory that warned doctors to be on the lookout for such as there's been an increase of respiratory synctial virus (RSV). RSV causes cold-like symptoms and has been populating the southern U.S. with its presence.

With seasonal allergies even worse this year, breeding grounds for weaker immune systems and viruses to set in occur and the sniffles start. The COVID-19 pandemic may have brought some significantly lowered statistics for influenza cases and colds during traditional 'cold and flu' season, but life getting back to somewhat a new normal means that the lookout for a summer cold is not so far-fetched. In fact, you've likely heard (or experienced it like we have), "There's something going around."

Yes, there is, and it's not just COVID-19.

How To Tell The Difference Between COVID-19 And A Summer Cold?

In truth, it's hard. Summer cold symptoms include:
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Headaches
  • Body aches
Symptoms of COVID-19 include:

  • Fever or chills
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
As you can see, many of the symptoms--particularly the respiratory ones--are similar and could make you wonder, "Do I have COVID?" And even though loss of smell or taste seems to be a BIG one for COVID, ask anyone who is suffering from a common head cold how their food tastes and they're likely to tell you that it's bland (if they can taste it at all).

So how do you tell the difference between a summer cold and COVID? The symptoms of COVID are wide-ranging and start about two to fourteen days after you've been exposed to the virus.

The symptoms of a common summer cold typically appear two to three days after exposure to the virus and can last anywhere from two days to two weeks. My son's cold lasted about a week and a half. My husband's? About three days, though he has long-range sinus congestion going into it's 2nd week. Mine? about a week, and all average and fit in with that 7-10 days-ish range.

The thing is that Dr. Adalja says there's no real reliable way to tell the difference without getting tested and coming up negative for COVID-19. All the symptoms of a summer cold sadly fall right in line with those of COVID-19, and testing to be safe and to protect others is probably wise.

At a minimum, experts recommend that you take many of the same precautions that you would for COVID as you do for a summer cold. These include:
  • Social distancing--just stay home if you think you have a cold.
  • Wash your hands. And wash them some more. With soap and water and be sure to do so frequently. While you don't necessarily have to go on renegade mode and sanitize ALL the things...good hygiene is pivotal when a virus is going around. Any virus.
  • Consider wearing a mask if you do need to go out. Again, this is to protect others from catching your summer cold. If there's one thing COVID-19 has done, it's show the world that being concerned about transmitting to others shouldn't be a shameful thing.
  • Air your space out. Get as much fresh air as you can and be sure you're eating and drinking healthfully. Consider this summer as you might that beginning of a new school year. Kids are getting back together and sharing more. Do the things you'd do to fight back-to-school germs as well.
  • Consider getting tested if it will give you peace of mind.
The bottom line is that while the COVID-19 virus shook the world up, it's a virus. And viruses are facts of life. In any other time of history, a summer cold would be considered just that--a summer cold that may inconvenience us or make us feel icky, but something to deal with as best our family can and move on.

And that's what experts recommend you consider--what works for your family is always going to be the best approach to a summer cold because it's what you're most likely to stick to.

Tell us, what do you and your family do for a summer cold?