Staying cool can be hard when you have inflammatory arthritis, but there are some ways to beat the heat.
Summer can get hot. The warmer weather means we tend to spend more time outside: Water parks are open, pool floats are out, vacations are planned, and grills are turned on.
If you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), the heat can also mean a change in your symptoms. Sunnier days can mean less arthritis pain and improved mental health for many people with RA.
Additionally, needing fewer layers during warmer months lessens the demand on small hand joints. No more cramming into boots, either. Slip-on shoes, like slides and flip-flops, are easy to put on and don’t cause strain on your ankle joints.
Each summer seems to be hotter than the one before. On June 21, 2022, the first official day of summer, nearly 35 million people were under heat advisories across the United States.
Higher temperatures combined with tropical humidity in some areas of the country can be dangerous, especially for older adults, very young kids, and people with chronic conditions.
Why is heat dangerous to certain populations, including people with chronic conditions?
According to the World Health Organization, exposure to extreme heat can cause severe symptoms like heat exhaustion, heat stroke, blood clots, strokes, and dehydration. Dehydration reduces the overall fluid levels in your body, including the cushioning in your joints.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, certain medications can also increase the risks of heat-related illness. These include medications for anxiety, depression, and heart function.
Although it’s unclear why people with RA experience heat intolerance and hot flashes, it’s often discussed in RA forums and commonly reported to healthcare professionals. Some people with RA may have low grade fevers, which contributes to the feeling of being hot all of the time.
Staying cool can be hard when you have RA, but there are some tips to help you beat the heat.
Layers can be helpful for hot flashes, as removing layers will instantly cool you off. Investing in high tech fabrics that allow air to pass through and wick sweat away can also be cooling.
Frozen foods are a great way to stay cool from the inside out. Frozen grapes and sugar-free popsicles are cheap, easy, and relatively healthy. Crushed ice is also a cool, convenient, and calorie-free snack.
Wearing a wide-brimmed hat can help cut down on the amount of sun that hits your skin. Keeping your head cool can also keep the rest of you cool. Packable hats that retain their shape are very convenient if you’re on the go.
According to a 2019 study, sunscreen keeps skin cooler by preventing nitric oxide levels from dropping. Low levels can limit blood flow to the skin, increasing body heat.
Additionally, preventing sunburns will keep you cool after a day in the sun’s ultraviolet rays.
Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it makes you have to pee more frequently. In general, drinking alcohol when it’s hot out can be dehydrating. Instead, replace alcohol with other hydrating beverages, like water or sports drinks. If you do drink, consume alcohol in moderation, and be sure to also drink plenty of water.
Although coffee and tea are mild diuretics, they can increase your heart rate, which increases sweating. While sweating can keep you cool, it can also create a fluid deficit. If you’re in need of a coffee or tea in the hotter months, try iced versions instead. Cool drinks will help cool you down.
In between those caffeinated beverages, drink plain water.
Make a conscious effort to drink water throughout the day. The recommended daily intake for water is between 2 and 4 liters per day. If you’re very active, you likely need more.
Some RA medications can cause dehydration, and many patients report requiring an increased water intake to combat that side effect. Water is always your best bet to stay hydrated. It’s calorie-free, caffeine-free, inexpensive, and readily available.
Do your exercise regimen early in the morning or late in the evening, when the temperatures are at their lowest. If you must exercise during the warmest parts of the day, try water exercises or indoor activities in areas that are climate controlled.
Use fans whenever possible. The air circulation helps decrease the temperature. There are also smaller personal fans you can wear on your neck or leave on your desk for more targeted cooling.
If you don’t have to go outside, don’t. If your shopping and other errands can wait until cooler times of day, wait. Sign up for delivery services in your area during the summer months to help eliminate trips in the heat.
Don’t schedule appointments during the hottest time of day, either. Your medical appointments, hair cuts, pedicures, and more can likely be scheduled so you’re not having to travel outside at peak temperatures.
Freezing your pillowcase is an easy way to cool off and feel a bit luxurious. Put your pillowcase in the freezer after you wake up in the morning. Before you go to bed, put it back on your pillow. It will immediately cool down your bedding and feel soothing on your face.
Whether you spend the summer inside or poolside, there are plenty of ways to keep cool. Managing your heat sensitivity and intolerance can be a key piece of your arthritis care routine during warmer months.
Medically reviewed on July 27, 2022
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