4 Unexpected Ways Summer Heat Is Throwing Your Body Out of Whack
A snuffed nose, sleep issues, a pounding heart—when temperatures rise, your system reacts in some surprising ways. Here's how to stay healthy in hot weather.
Summer is finally in full swing—which means cute sandals and sunglasses, beach vacations, and ridiculously scorching weather. If you're feeling the heat, literally (does it really need to be 85 degrees before nine in the morning, seriously?) you’re not alone.
Hot temperatures can mess with your body in all sorts of sneaky ways, and we don't just mean the threat of a sunburn or sweating through your outfit on the way to work. Here are four common ways hot, humid weather takes a toll on your health, plus how you can beat heat's effect on your system.
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You're sniffling and sneezing
Flowers bloom in the summer—and so do plants and grasses that produce pollen, says Kim Knowlton, MD, an assistant clinical professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. In response to the warm weather, pollen production goes up, and the presence of pollen in the air can leave even people with mild allergies sneezing, sniffling, and rubbing their itchy eyes through Labor Day.
To reduce these allergy symptoms, pay attention to the daily pollen count and try to stay indoors as much as possible on high-count days. If you can't give up your outdoor run or yoga class, try to time it (as well as other outside activities) toward the end of the day, when pollen counts go down. And keep windows shut in your house to keep allergens from turning you into a sneezy mess in your own home.
You toss and turn all night
Too hot to sleep—but the air conditioning in your room is making you shiver? Summer makes it tough to find that happy medium. Most people sleep best when the temperature is at 65 to 66 degrees; as the temperature goes up, sleep quality tends to go down, says Chris Winter, MD, neurologist and sleep medicine specialist at Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine in Virginia.
The right temperature could also help you stay asleep through the night and score better sleep quality. So if you find yourself waking up fatigued and fuzzy-brained, try adjusting the thermostat. Dr. Winter says many of his patients have reported resting much better when they lower their bedroom temperature, even if they hadn't noticed sleep problems. Don't feel guilty for using so much electricity—cranking up the AC to a healthy level is good for you.
Your heart pounds way more than normal
You do a hard-charging cardio workout three times a week, but your heart rate is suddenly spiking on your walk to work in the morning. What gives? Jonathan Newman MD, MPH, cardiologist at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, says higher temps have both direct and indirect effects on your heart.
For starters, if you live in an urban area, you may notice smog or haze fogging up summer skies. Air quality tends to get worse at higher temperatures, and that air pollution itself can take a toll on the heart and vascular system, Dr. Newman says.
Plus, at the most basic physical level, "your heart is working overtime" in the summer, says Kim Knowlton, MD, an assistant clinical professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. “Your heart beats faster in order to pump overly warm blood from your body’s core out to the skin’s surface," says Dr. Knowlton, which helps cool you down.
Since your faster heartbeat is all part of your body's way of keeping you cool, there's not much you can do to prevent it. Taking normal precautions in the heat—drinking lots of water, not exerting yourself too much—are always good ideas. And of course, "eating a heart-healthy diet, controlling your blood pressure, controlling your cholesterol, and increasing physical activity," Dr. Newman says, will keep your ticker in good shape so it can handle 90-degree days.
You're racking up lots of mosquito bites
When the weather is warm, you want to spend as much time in the great outdoors as possible. But while you're embracing nature, dining al fresco, or just enjoying a backyard barbecue, mosquitoes are making you their buffet.
Unfortunately, summer is prime time for mosquitoes. Their prey (in other words, us) are outside more, and the little vampires also mature faster when the sun is out strong. That means skeeters live fast and die young, so the time between the day one hatches and the day it becomes a disease-transmitting adult is shorter. With mosquitoes taking less time to reach this stage, diseases (such as Zika and the West Nile Virus) can spread more quickly, says Aileen Marty, MD, an infectious disease specialist in Washington, D.C.
What can you do to protect yourself? When you're hanging outside, skip your signature scent in favor of bug spray, says Debra Jaliman, MD, New York City-based dermatologist and author of Skin Rules. She recommends Ultrathon Insect Repellent. "It's creamy and it says on your skin longer," says Dr. Jaliman. It also has DEET, one of the few ingredients that have been shown to be truly effective in warding off mosquitoes.
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And what you heard as a kid is right—don't scratch! As itchy as these bites are, scratching them can create an open wound, making you susceptible to infections, especially since there's plenty of bacteria hiding under your nails, says Dr. Jaliman.
If you just can't keep your hands off your bites, Dr. Jaliman has a few suggestions. "Use ice cubes to stop the itching; over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream or aloe vera gel will also diminish the itch and reduce swelling," she adds.