Heat and humidity with arthritis can trigger symptom flare-ups, such as acute fatigue, increased joint pain, weakness, and difficulty thinking. To avoid heat-related flare-ups, stay in an air-conditioned or well-cooled environment.

An analysis by the Associated Press found that exposure to extreme heat has tripled in the last few decades and now afflicts nearly a quarter of people on Earth. During summer’s scorching temperatures, coping with a long-term condition such as arthritis, can present significant challenges.

The relentless heat and humidity exacerbate symptoms and intensify discomfort for those managing chronic health issues. The blazing sun poses risks of dehydration, heat exhaustion, and other complications, especially for individuals with conditions like gout, fibromyalgia, lupus, and inflammatory arthritis conditions. Coping strategies become imperative: staying hydrated, seeking shade, and avoiding outdoor activities during peak heat hours. Adhering to medication regimens and monitoring health closely are paramount.

You’ll find medical information about signs of heat exhaustion on the Healthify website.

Mental health during hot temperatures

Not only can the heat and humidity wipe us out, but it’s not that great for mental health, either. And when our mental health isn’t great, our pain levels increase. The hot temperatures can exacerbate changes in mood and irritability, make it difficult to concentrate and think clearly, and cause trouble sleeping, which has a myriad of negative effects on your health. The heat can also exacerbate stress and overwhelm existing mental health conditions. If you find anger management difficult at the best of times, then the heat can make this an even more significant challenge.

You could experience physical symptoms from the heat, such as fatigue, headaches, dizziness, or nausea. All of this can serve to increase pain levels.

Despite the difficulties, proactive measures can empower individuals to navigate summer’s soaring temperatures with resilience and care.

Coping strategies to manage the heat and humidity with arthritis

Our Fibromyalgia Online Support Group offers excellent advice on mitigating the heat and humidity this summer.

Melissa, a fibromyalgia and mindfulness coach from Auckland, recommends:

  • Try to get ahead of it with air-con/fan, etc.
  • Stay out of the hottest sun.
  • I found that the heat would build throughout the day, and then I’d get more and more unwell/lethargic without realising it. So I made a “if this, then that” If it’s 23 degrees (or more), I put on the air con and don’t go outside.
  • Also, loads of water, maybe some electrolytes. I like the Musashi low-sugar ones, and I also use biotrace liquid electrolytes from Health Post. It’s very cost-effective.

“It’s such a fine line. I could feel poorly, put on the air con at last and feel a million times better, or it could take days to improve. Depended on how bad I let it get.”

Staying hydrated is essential for regulating your body temperature. Most people are fine to go for ice-cold drinks, but for some people with lupus, this could trigger a flare. Stick to room temperature or cool drinks, not ice-cold in this case.

Jo, a member of the fibromyalgia online support group, says,

  • A cold facecloth on the back of my neck cools me down. I also put them on my legs and arms (even a tea towel in cold water).

A cold towel around your neck is an excellent idea if you work or exercise in the heat. It also works great when riding a motorbike or pushbike on a hot day!

Jocelyn, another member of the group, had the following advice;

  • Take quick cold showers.
  • Put a heat pack in the freezer and put it around your neck.
  • Buy a foot spa and soak your feet in cold or warm water.
  • Have raw veggies like a salad for dinner, not hot food.
  • I put a hot water bottle in my bed before sleeping with cold water in it an hour or so in the freezer, then put it in your bed.
  • I use a face fan from the $1-2 dollar shop. I think some chemist shops have them. They are not expensive when I go for chemo; I take it with me because it can get really hot in the hospital.

Rebecca from the Fibromylagia group makes her own lavender eye pillow, which can go in the fridge and then cools and relaxes when placed over the eyes.

Dr Emma Dunning, GP, adds some more things to think about when trying to stay cool;

  • avoid alcohol and caffeine – both of these dehydrate.
  • avoid recreational drugs like ecstasy – they block your temperature control systems.
  • avoid intense exercise.
  • avoid going out in the middle of the day (do your errands in the early morning or evening).
  • wear loose, light-coloured clothing in breathable fibres (this usually means cotton or linen, but some sporting fabrics are good too – just not polyester/nylon).
  • keep your home cool. Open windows on opposite sides of the room to encourage air movement. Close curtains if direct sun is coming in.
  • keep indoor plants – they help cool the air.

UV light and Lupus

People with lupus are highly sensitive to ultraviolet (UV) light exposure, which can cause severe damage to their skin and trigger systemic immune responses, leading to lupus flare-ups. Even minimal sun exposure can result in sunburn-like rashes, blisters, swelling, joint pain, fatigue, fever, and flu-like symptoms in individuals with lupus. Protecting the skin from UV radiation is essential to prevent these adverse effects.

Protection methods include using broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 50 or higher, applying it at least 15 minutes before sun exposure, and covering exposed skin thoroughly. Protective clothing such as long-sleeved shirts, pants, hats, and sunglasses can also minimise U.V. exposure. It’s advised to stay indoors or seek shade between 10 am and 4 pm, when UV rays are most intense, and schedule outdoor activities during early morning or late evening hours.

It’s important to continue taking prescribed medications throughout the summer, as they reduce skin photosensitivity.

If you’ve been thinking about quitting smoking, here’s another reason: smoking can diminish the effectiveness of lupus medications and increase skin vulnerability to UV burn.

For more information about medications and the sun: Arthritis, medication, and the sun.

Written by Tracey Kellett.

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