Summer is here in the Midwest – and the heat and humidity have come right on schedule. For some individuals with underlying health concerns, hot weather can be particularly difficult to manage.
Older people, pregnant individuals and young children – specifically infants – are particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of spending too much time in the hot weather. Older people often take medications that could increase their risk of dehydration and often have chronic illnesses like heart disease that increase their risk of heat-related illnesses. Young children have such a small body mass that they tend to absorb heat quickly – and infants are particularly vulnerable as they can’t physically move themselves from a bed or car seat if they are overheating.
Understanding the impacts of hot weather – made worse by humidity – on the body is important to safely navigate the summer season. Here are some of the ways hot weather affects the body and common conditions.
How hot weather affects the kidneys
Hot weather can often raise the body’s temperature rapidly to 104 degrees. This increase in body temperature can lead to severe dehydration, which affects kidney function. For those without existing kidney problems, excessive exposure to heat can cause short-term kidney issues or increase the chances of developing chronic kidney disease. For those who already have chronic kidney disease, their symptoms can get worse. Learn more here.
How hot weather affects heart disease
The heart works harder during hot weather to keep the body cool. On a hot day, the heart beats faster and circulates two to four times more blood per minute than on a colder day, resulting in stress for the heart. Heart strain can increase the chances of higher blood pressure, heart attacks, irregular heartbeats and heart failure. Learn more here.
How hot weather affects high blood pressure
As temperatures rise, the body begins to shift blood from its major organs to underneath the skin to try and radiate out the heat. Increased blood flow means the heart begins to beat faster to keep up. This can cause blood pressure to increase. and put more stress on the heart. Additionally, individuals are more likely to be dehydrated in the summer – putting additional stress on the heart as it is not able to work as efficiently. Learn more here.
How hot weather affects skin conditions
One of the body’s main temperature control mechanisms is sweating –but all that extra oil can clog pores and lead to breakouts. As our body loses moisture in hot weather, the skin can also become dry. Staying hydrated and practicing regular skin care – including using sunscreen and following a cleansing and moisturizing routine – can help. Some skin conditions can be made worse by the heat, including eczema and rosacea. Learn more here.
How hot weather affects arthritis
As temperatures rise, people with arthritis often find themselves suffering from increased joint pain. Heat can cause the fluid levels in our joints to increase, and this results in increased inflammation, pain and discomfort. Warmer or dryer temperatures can also lead to dehydration, further exacerbating arthritis symptoms. Hot weather is often accompanied by higher levels of humidity. The spikes in moisture in the air can increase joint pain or trigger arthritis flares. Learn more here.
How hot weather affects diabetes
Managing diabetes can become trickier in the summer heat. Those with diabetes get dehydrated quicker than others. High blood sugar can cause greater urination rates, which leads to dehydration. People with diabetes may also be on medications that can cause dehydration, such as diuretics.
A history of blood vessel and nerve damage complications from diabetes can lead to risks in the heat as well. These complications can cause your body to have difficulty cooling you down – putting you at higher risk for heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Learn more here.
How hot weather affects depression
Hot weather can affect our mental health in addition to our physical health. With the longer days in the warm weather months in the Midwest, the increase in sunlight may affect individuals with sleeping issues. Too much sunlight, heat and allergens can also cause depressive episodes. Additionally, some antidepressants can affect how your body regulates its temperature – putting individuals at risk for heat exhaustion. Learn more here.
Health tips during hot weather
Talk with your health care provider about how to stay healthy and safe during the heat of the summer months. For those who are pregnant, living with a chronic health condition or take prescription medication, the hot weather may bring specific challenges.
Here are some general tips on how to stay safe during hot weather:
- Dress in lightweight and light-colored clothing.
- Stay hydrated – drink water every 15 minutes even if you don’t feel thirsty.
- Schedule outdoor activities for the cooler times of day. Summer mornings and evenings are cooler and less humid. Avoid midday and afternoon activities when the sun and heat are at their peaks.
- Stay in the shade and rest often. If you must be outside during the hottest times of the day, stay in the shade and take breaks often. Go inside to an air-conditioned building to lower your body temperature.
- Use sunscreen. Use sunscreen with at least SPF 30 that protects against both UVA and UVB rays and reapply as the label suggests.
- Take medications as prescribed. Follow your doctor’s directions and instructions.