Is It a Summer Cold or Allergies?

June 29, 2021

Clinical Contributors to this Story

Parneet Grewal, M.D. contributes to topics such as Family Medicine.

You might expect to have a scratchy throat and a runny nose in the dead of winter, but on a beautiful summer’s day, these symptoms seem out of place (and downright cruel). It is possible to experience the common cold during the warm-weather months, but the symptoms may actually be a sign that you have allergies, not a cold. How can you tell the difference when you’re feeling lousy?

“Although colds and allergies have some overlapping symptoms, there are reliable ways to tell them apart, including the presence or absence of certain symptoms and the duration of your discomfort,” says Parneet Grewal, M.D., a family medicine specialist with Hackensack Meridian Medical Group.

Summer colds can be different

Most people who get colds in the winter are infected by common viruses known as rhinoviruses, which are most active during the chillier months. You’re less likely to be exposed to, or become ill from, rhinoviruses when it’s warm out.

Instead, a different type of virus causes colds more often during the warmer months: Enteroviruses. They’re less common than rhinoviruses overall, but they’re more prevalent during the summer.

Rhinoviruses, which typically strike during the winter, reside in the upper respiratory system. Enteroviruses, which typically strike during the summer, inhabit the gastrointestinal system. Although both types of viruses can cause cold symptoms like coughing, sneezing, sore throat and runny nose, enteroviruses may also cause nausea, vomiting or rashes.

Seasonal allergies can pop up during the summer

Many people with seasonal allergies experience discomfort during the springtime, when trees pollinate. But some people are allergic to grass or ragweed, which can cause allergy symptoms (like itchy eyes and sneezing) well into the summer.

People often think that a seasonal allergy may just be a bad cold, but allergies are likely to surface at a set time every year, based on plants blooming in the surrounding environment. Allergies are also more likely to last for weeks, rather than several days, which is the typical length of a cold. When your symptoms linger, it’s more likely that you have allergies, not a cold.

COVID-19 symptoms mimic some cold and allergy symptoms

Although COVID-19 rates have been dropping in New Jersey in recent months as more people have become vaccinated, it’s still possible for certain people to become ill with the novel coronavirus.

Some COVID-19 symptoms are similar to cold and allergy symptoms, including fever, a cough and a runny nose. If you’ve been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 and you’re experiencing symptoms, get tested for COVID-19.

Determining the cause of your symptoms

The following chart may help you figure out whether you may be experiencing a summer cold, allergies or COVID-19. Seek care from a doctor about any concerning symptoms, particularly if you have trouble breathing.

SymptomsSummer coldsAllergiesCOVID-19
sore throat
coughing
sneezing
runny nose
stuffy nose
sinus pressure or pain
fever
fatigue
muscle aches
nausea/vomiting
rash
pinkeye
red, itchy eyes
shortness of breath
trouble breathing
new loss of smell

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The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.