Can summer’s hottest days make you sick if you have autoimmune disease?
- Excessive heat can trigger autoimmune disease flare-ups
- Exposure to UV light and extreme temperatures causes inflammation and worsens symptoms
[3 MIN READ]
When it’s working properly, your immune system is like a miniature army that goes to war against any foreign cells, bacteria and viruses in your body. When you have an autoimmune disease, that entire process gets thrown out of whack and your immune system attacks healthy cells by mistake.
For many people with an autoimmune disease, the extreme heat of summer makes their symptoms worse. It can trigger flare-ups that include excessive fatigue, muscle aches, pain, inflammation and swelling.
This video explains what happens when you have an autoimmune disease:
There are more than 80 types of autoimmune diseases and they can show up anywhere in your body. Common autoimmune disorders include:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Thyroid disease
- Type 1 diabetes
- Celiac disease
What are flare-ups? Why are they worse when it's hot?
Flares or flare-ups are a classic sign of an autoimmune disease. They intensify your symptoms, cause new health challenges and put additional stress on your already malfunctioning autoimmune system. Lack of sleep and stress are two of the most common triggers for flare-ups, but a wide range of factors can impact how you feel.
Sun and high temperatures often increase the potential for flares. When ultraviolet (UV) light hits your skin, it naturally causes inflammation and sets up a chain reaction of symptoms.
Sun and high temperatures often increase the potential for flares. When ultraviolet (UV) light hits your skin, it naturally causes inflammation and sets up a chain reaction of symptoms. Research shows extreme weather changes, like excessively high temperatures or humidity, can trigger flare-ups. Results can include rash, fever, headaches, joint pain and sun sensitivity.
A recently published study indicates that exposure to a type of UV light—called far-UVC light—can reduce the number of airborne viruses in the air. This could provide some level of protection against several conditions that affect your immune system, like the coronavirus (COVID-19). Although this research shows some promise for treating COVID-19, purposely exposing yourself to additional heat and UV rays could worsen your symptoms and trigger an autoimmune flare.
How can I beat the heat?
Summer doesn’t have to be your least favorite season when you have an autoimmune disease. Taking some basic precautions to minimize the heat's impact can help you enjoy even the hottest days.
Avoid heat peaks
You don’t have to be a shut-in, but consider staying indoors in a climate-controlled atmosphere during the hottest part of the day.
If you know you’re going somewhere that’s likely to be uncomfortably warm, take along gel ice packs and ice water. A small, hand-held fan can be an ideal accessory for your summertime wardrobe.
Dress for success
Wear clothing that offers protection from the sun's rays. Breathable fabrics like cotton, linen, or rayon blends can help keep you cool while shielding you from UV light exposure. If you have extreme photosensitivity, protective clothing that blocks the damaging rays may be worth the investment.
Drinking plenty of water is an excellent habit to have regardless of the temperature, but it's particularly essential when the heat can bring on dehydration more quickly and make your symptoms worse.
Don’t forget the sunscreen
Wear sunscreen every day and reapply it every two hours or so when it’s really sunny out. If you keep your sunscreen in the fridge, it can help cool you down while upping your protection against UV light.
Autoimmune disease doesn’t have to ruin your summer. Proactively taking steps to minimize the heat’s impact can help you live an active, healthy life no matter what the thermometer says.
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Find a doctor
The autoimmune disease experts at Providence understand the impact autoimmune disease has on your life throughout every season. Through Providence Express Care Virtual, you can access a full range of healthcare services. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory or search for one in your area.
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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