Keep Your Cool: 7 Tips For Surviving Summer Heat And Humidity

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As the temperature rises this summer, so does the humidity in many parts of the country. That means hot, sticky days that leave you feeling tired and uncomfortable. The summer humidity can also bring additional risks for people with underlying health conditions.

“High heat and humidity interfere with our body’s ability to cool itself, increasing the risk of dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. It can also worsen conditions like hypertension, heart disease and asthma,” says Farrah Hafeez, D.O., a family medicine physician at Henry Ford Health. “That’s why it’s important to take precautions to stay safe and cool this summer.”

How Do Heat And Humidity Affect Your Body?

Humidity (also called relative humidity) is the amount of water vapor in the air. If you notice that you feel more uncomfortable when it’s humid out, there’s a good reason — as humidity rises, the temperature reading on the thermometer feels even hotter. So, when the relative humidity is 60%, a temperature of 90° F feels like 100° F.

“Normally, when we’re hot, the sweat that builds up on our skin evaporates, helping us cool down. With high humidity, this process is disrupted. Moisture lingers on the skin, making us even hotter,” says Dr. Hafeez.

High temperatures and humidity can cause low energy, sluggishness and mood changes. Over time, this can lead to symptoms of overheating (hyperthermia), including:

  • Dehydration
  • Fainting
  • Fatigue (heat exhaustion)
  • Muscle cramps

“The most severe form of hyperthermia is heat stroke, which causes headaches, confusion and vomiting. If you experience these symptoms, it’s important to get medical attention immediately,” Dr. Hafeez says.

How Heat And Humidity Affect People With Underlying Health Conditions

Extreme heat and humidity can also impact people with health conditions, including:

  • Hypertension and heart disease: When temperatures and humidity rise, blood flow increases to the skin, causing the heart to beat faster to circulate more blood per minute. At the same time, sweating can lower the body’s overall blood volume, speeding up dehydration. These changes can add extra strain on the heart, especially if there is an underlying chronic condition.
  • Asthma: Heat and humidity can also aggravate the airways, making breathing more difficult. Hot and humid days also increase the accumulation of mildew and dust mites, which are asthma triggers.
  • Cancer: People undergoing chemotherapy or other cancer treatments often lose their appetite for food and drinks. These changes plus high heat and humidity put cancer patients at increased risk for dehydration. Cancer treatments can also affect the kidneys, so patients must stay hydrated to prevent kidney damage.

7 Tips For Beating The Heat

You can take steps to remain safe and cool on hot, humid days. Dr. Hafeez recommends these strategies to help you thrive:

  1. Be aware of risks to others. People with underlying health conditions, the elderly and children are vulnerable to high heat and humidity. Never leave a child alone in a car where the temperature can reach dangerous levels in minutes. Pets also need extra care, plenty of water and a break from the heat.
  2. Change your routine. Plan outdoor activities to avoid the hottest time, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. If you enjoy outdoor workouts, take frequent breaks and give your body a chance to adjust to being active in hot weather.
  3. Cool off. Find relief by spending time in an air-conditioned environment. Use a cold compress or ice pack to bring down your body temperature.
  4. Dress for the weather. Wear lightweight, light-colored, and loose-fitting clothing. Try sweat-wicking clothing, which helps absorb sweat and regulate your body temperature.
  5. Listen to your body. Don’t ignore signs that your body is struggling to maintain a normal body temperature. If you feel sluggish or overheated, take a break. Get immediate medical care if you experience confusion, dizziness, nausea or a rapid heart rate.
  6. Protect yourself from the sun. Wear sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses. If your skin becomes damaged from a sunburn, it will retain body heat, making it harder for you to cool off.
  7. Stay hydrated. Drink water throughout the day, even if you don’t feel thirsty. Aim to drink at least 64 ounces of decaffeinated, non-alcoholic, low-sugar beverages.

To find a physician at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-436-7936.

Dr. Farrah Hafeez is a family medicine doctor who sees patients at Henry Ford Macomb Health Center - Bruce Township and Henry Ford Macomb Medical Pavilion.

Categories: FeelWell