Summer sniffles? When to worry if it's COVID and what to do
Posted July 27, 2021 9:17 p.m. EDT
Updated July 29, 2021 4:37 p.m. EDT
If you've been around kids at all this summer, you'll know that summer sniffles are in full force. As we start spending more time with others and without face masks, there's just more opportunity to share germs.
Of course, as the pandemic continues, our kids' and our own runny noses and sneezes can put us on high alert. I checked in with Dr. Vickie Fowler, a family medicine physician at WakeMed Primary Care on Oberlin Road in Raleigh for some answers about what to do.
Go Ask Mom: Are you seeing more colds and related illnesses out in the community? If so, why?
Dr. Fowler: Yes.
Over the past 15 months due to pandemic precautions, we have seen many fewer viral respiratory illnesses. While our society was wearing masks and social distancing and crowd limits were in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, this also prevented the transmission of other illnesses such as influenza, parainfluenza, adenovirus and RSV.
This spring and summer, with relaxation of mandates involving masks and social distancing, we are, of course, seeing an increase in communicable viral respiratory illnesses. Generally summer is not the time we see colds and illnesses such as RSV. Recently, the CDC issued an advisory warning that it detected “an increased activity” of RSV since March across 10 Southern states. Infants, young children and older adults are most at risk for severe disease from RSV.
GAM: Is it possible to tell the difference between a cold and COVID?
Dr. Fowler: In the early stages, generally no. Both can cause sore throat, sneezing and congestion. There are some characteristics of COVID-19 which can tip one off such as a sudden loss of the sense of smell, which is much less common with other infections. Also COVID-19 infection symptoms can worsen dramatically and quickly after the first seven to 10 days, a time when most viral illnesses are resolving.
GAM: So, if you get the sniffles or cough, should you get a COVID test?
Dr. Fowler: Yes.
Given that we have treatments that may be helpful early in the course for high risk-individuals, such as those who are overweight or have certain health conditions such as asthma, diabetes or hypertension, you should be tested for COVID-19. Beyond one’s own health and well-being, the knowledge that your symptoms are due to COVID-19 rather than a simple summer cold requires isolation in order to prevent the spread to others who could be high risk for complications including hospitalization and death. Also, there may be long term consequences from COVID-19 and it is good to know that you have been infected.
(Editor's note: Wake County offers free, drive-up COVID testing.)
GAM: What's the best treatment for a summer cold?
Dr. Fowler: Rest, fluids, and avoiding the summer heat due to risks of dehydration. For symptoms such as runny nose and sneezing, OTC antihistamines or nasal steroid sprays can help. Tylenol or anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen or naproxen help control fever, headache and body aches.
Throat lozenges are helpful with sore throat symptoms. Guaifenesin with increased fluids can be useful for head and chest congestion and cough.
GAM: Anything you else want families to know?
Dr. Fowler: First and foremost, if you have not had your vaccination for COVID-19, get vaccinated. Vaccination is the best way to protect oneself from infection and is effective against complications such as hospitalization and death from the new delta variant of COVID-19.
Also, we are concerned about a potential bad flu season this fall, so be sure to get your flu vaccine as soon as it becomes available. While not as dangerous as COVID-19 , influenza infection kills tens of thousands in the United States during most regular flu seasons.
Individuals should continue to wash their hands frequently and stay home when they are sick or feel symptoms of illness if possible. Parents also should keep children home when the children are sick to prevent the transmission to others. Resume wearing your mask if you are ill or in an area that may potentially be higher risk for new variants like the delta variant of COVID-19 would be wise in my opinion.
Finally, if in doubt about what you should do regarding immunization or infection symptoms, consult with your primary care physician or other health care provider. If you do not have a regular physician, this is a great opportunity to establish with a primary care physician to address your illness concerns and advise you on your overall health.