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5 Ways to Beat the Heat This Summer If You Have Chronic Illness

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If you have a chronic illness, you know the summer heat can really do a number on your body. It can worsen fatigue, make you feel dizzy, nauseous and even cause skin rashes that are hard to manage. Heat can put stress on your body that manifests into flares or other intense symptoms if we don’t make the appropriate lifestyle changes during the hot season. So how do I enjoy the summer when I can’t be in the heat? There are ways to enjoy the season of sun and take care of your health.

What happens if I don’t protect myself from the heat?

If you don’t ever take the initiative to learn how to adjust your lifestyle during extreme temperatures, exposure to extreme heat or cold without taking the proper precautions can actually cause you more pain and struggling. Being exposed to extreme heat while living in a warmer state can cause regular symptoms like pain and fatigue to become more frequent and more intense. If you know how to prevent or avoid excessive exposure you can still participate in activities you enjoy. Maybe you don’t want to miss that event that is outdoors, maybe you stay inside all day during the summer and want to get out more. In either case, it’s worth it to educate yourself on ways to take control of extreme temperature and learn how it affects your body because your quality of life is important! When you decide to become an active manager of your illness, big changes can happen.

Five Ways to Beat the Heat

Managing a chronic illness means knowing your mind and body with a deep awareness of how your internal environment and your external environment are affecting each other. Educating yourself on all the different areas in your life that affect and are affected by your illness puts you in a position of control over your health and happiness. This can be an overwhelming task, but that’s why I’m here! Keep reading for my five ways to beat the heat so you can enjoy your summer and effectively manage your illness.

1. Research The first thing we have to do is take a good look at what your specific illness and medication requirements are. The best way to do this is to consult with your doctor, pharmacist and even your disease specific information resource center to find out exactly how the heat can affect you and what to look out for. Lupus, for example, is often characterized by photosensitivity that can manifest in skin rashes, extreme fatigue or even increased pain. Certain medications like antidepressants can alter your body’s ability to regulate temperature or sweat. Knowing this very specific information can help you make more informed decisions during the extreme heat that can prevent serious incidents or symptoms from happening or help you know what to look out for if they do.

2. Hydration – The next thing we want to keep track of is how many ounces of water or fluids we are taking in per day. Consult with your doctor or pharmacist about hydration for your specific illness and medications and how they affect your ability to stay properly hydrated. Dehydration is one of the things that can prevent our body from being able to regulate temperature so we want to avoid it at all costs. Bring water with you everywhere you go. Have extra water on hand during long trips away from home. A general rule is that if you are thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. Make sure to not only drink water while you are exercising or outdoors, but before and after those activities as well. Avoid or limit alcohol as it can make us more dehydrated and know the signs of dehydration:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Dry skin (you no longer sweat)
  • Decreased urine volume or abnormally dark urine
  • Unexplained tiredness
  • Irritability
  • Rapid breathing
  • Dizziness

3. Know Your Limits  Our bodies are designed to be at premium functioning at a core temperature of 98.6 degrees and when it rises above that, our central nervous system and other organ systems can begin to function poorly. We all respond differently to our body’s core temperature rising, but we know that when this happens our body gives us signs. It’s your job to recognize these signs and adjust your activity accordingly or we risk over-doing which may only make it worse. We can also be preventative by taking frequent breaks. If you want to go to a park and know you will be outdoors for two hours, take two or three long breaks during that time to give your body a rest. If you want to travel on vacation, know how to make it as easy on your body as possible.

4. Protect Yourself  – Use preventative strategies to keep the sun from negatively affecting you when you are outdoors. Use SPF 30 or higher sunscreen and apply it every hour. Wear UPF clothing that has built-in ultraviolet protection. Cover as much of your skin as possible using wide brimmed hats, UPF clothing and portable shade. Find areas that are covered from the sun and do the best you can to stay out of direct sunlight. There are many other tools that help beat the heat such as cooling towels, personal fans and misters. You can even look on Pinterest for DIY ideas to make these items at home!

5. Expectation Adjustment – The biggest thing we can do for ourselves during the summer is adjust our expectations of what we “should” or “shouldn’t” be able to do in the summer. You might usually be able to walk the dogs every day, but in the summer, you might adjust your walks to before sunrise or after sunset when it is cooler out. You might usually be able to run all your errands in one day, but during the summer you might want to adjust to breaking up your errands to get one thing done each day so that you can return to the air conditioning frequently. Beating the heat is all about prioritizing and adjusting so you can still do the things you want or need to do while also taking care of your health. Instead of taking a walk to get your exercise, try swimming in pool or other water source. Instead of gardening during the day, try to garden early in the morning. Pace yourself and allow your body to rest when it needs to.

This story originally appeared on Imagine Life Therapy.

Originally published: April 30, 2018
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