Sick in Summer? Tips for Staying Healthy and Recovering Quickly

This is a guest post by Sheila Kilbane, MD, a board-certified pediatrician who trained with Andrew Weil, MD in integrative medicine. She is the author of Healthy Kids, Happy Moms: A Step-by-Step Guide to Improving Many Common Childhood Illnesses and an online course for parents, 7 Steps to Healthy Kids, Happy Moms™. You can connect with Dr. Kilbane at SheilaKilbane.com or on Facebook.


It’s always a bummer to get sick during the summer. I remember as a kid getting such a bad case of swimmer’s ear that I’d have to keep my head above the water for days until the ear drops took effect. The pain was terrible!

Swimmer’s ear is just one 

Sick in Summer - Tips to Help on 100 Days of Real Food

Summer is generally a healthier time than winter, but…

78-year-old grandfathers can get sick from the same triggers as kids.

Illnesses are generally milder in summer than in winter, but every summer, it seems there’s always one person in every family who comes down with something.

Two summers ago, my 78-year-old dad was just that person. He got a terrible case of bronchitis and wheezing while on our family summer vacation on a somewhat remote island in Ohio, only accessible by boat or plane, and of course, there were no medical facilities other than a volunteer fire department.

photo of Dr. Kilbane and her dad who got a summer sickness while on vacation
Dr. Kilbane and her dad

I think the trigger for his illness was similar to what triggers many summertime illnesses in both kids and adults: stress and inflammation.

Summer Sickness Is an Immune System Breakdown

Illness stems from a breakdown in the body’s immune system to identify and protect itself from one of the many viruses or bacteria that we get exposed to on a daily basis. While we are exposed to these things ALL the time, we are not constantly sick.

So is illness really from bacteria and viruses, or is it from the breakdown of our system’s (mind/body/spirit) ability to ward them off?

Top Five Summer Sickness Triggers

Our immune system becomes compromised when we have excess inflammation in our bodies. Five things usually trigger inflammation (this is my very simplified version of illness). 

  1. Food: sugar, dairy, packaged and processed foods, artificial dyes and colors —basically what they serve at pool snack bars!>
  2. Allergies: food and environmental
  3. Stress: travel, being outside of your normal daily routine, summer heat, lack of proper hydration, summer camp…
  4. Infectious Disease: bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi, etc.
  5. Toxins: mold, pesticides, the chemicals in certain sunscreens and cosmetics 

What Triggered My Father’s Summer Sickness

In my father’s case, it was from being out of his own familiar environment, being out of his normal routine of physical activity (1 or 2 long walks a day with his dog), eating healthy food, and late afternoon quiet naps (babies and 78-year-olds have the same afternoon activities☺).  

You don’t have to wind up in the ER if you avoid the top five illness triggers.

Dr. Kilbane’s dad in the ER

On top of all that, he had flown across the country without my mother—and although he would never admit to it, he is better at traveling when she is with him. Upon arriving in Ohio, he spent a couple of nights visiting with relatives. They were busy shopping to stock the cottage and  given their hectic schedules, they were eating fast food and had ice cream twice in two days. On top of that, he slept in a hotel room that he said smelled like mold.

When I broke it down, my father had three of those triggers for sure:

  1. Food: processed, packaged, high sugar foods that he doesn’t normally eat.
  2. Allergies: likely toxic mold in his hotel room.
  3. Stress: although he loves to be with extended family, there was added stress because my mother was not with him, he was not sleeping in his own bed, and therefore not sleeping well, and he wasn’t exercising and resting during the day like he normally does.

Working Through My Dad’s Illness

I arrived on the island two days after he did. His cough was terrible, and it made me nervous. I didn’t have a stethoscope with me, so I went old school and pressed my ear directly against his back. I could easily hear the wheezing.

I had no medications with me, so he and I packed overnight bags just in case and took the ferry to the mainland so we could go to the Emergency Room. His chest x-ray was normal. He did not have pneumonia and did not need antibiotics. The doctor gave him an albuterol inhaler for the wheezing, and we were liberated to head back to the island.

When I called my mother, she said, “I knew it! He always overdoes it when I’m not there!”

My dad continued to have high fevers and night sweats for two more days. I pulled out all of the natural remedies we had access to on the island to help make him more comfortable (Download list of Natural Remedies for Acute Illnesses).

He coughed for two more weeks, but once he was back home in Seattle—in his normal environment—all of his symptoms finally resolved. 

I offer up my dad’s story of summer sickness because I think children and older adults have similar susceptibility patterns when it comes to stress and situations outside of their normal routines.

Each year as you head into summer vacation, run back through the top five triggers of illness. Plan your health strategies for the summer months the same way you plan for your trips. Wouldn’t it be fun for the whole family to be healthy all summer long?!

Want more tips like this? Download Dr. Kilbane’s natural remedies for acute illnesses and sign-up for her newsletter at www.sheilakilbane.com

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