Beat the Heat: Preparing for Summer with Chronic Conditions

Jun 5, 2024

Summer is approaching. Like many others, I am looking forward to a few months of long, sunny days. However, as temperatures begin to rise, it is important to consider the challenges that come along with summer, especially for individuals with certain health conditions. Understanding how environmental factors like heat, humidity, pollen, and smoke can exacerbate symptoms is crucial, both for those with the conditions and those close to them. In this article, we take a closer look at chronic conditions that are particularly affected by heat, humidity, pollen, and smoke, along with strategies to cope/support others during the summer months.

Cardiovascular Diseases

Heat and humidity put stress on the cardiovascular system as the body’s natural cooling mechanisms, such as sweating and increased blood flow to the skin, require the heart to work harder. . Symptoms such as dizziness, shortness of breath, and chest pain are common, and the risk of heat stroke or heart attack increases.

How to Help Others: Regularly check in on loved ones with cardiovascular disease as well as elderly relatives or neighbours, as they may be more susceptible to heat-related complications. Ensure they have access to air conditioning or fans, and encourage them to stay hydrated.

Respiratory Diseases

Respiratory conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can worsen with rising temperatures, humidity, and increased pollen levels. High humidity makes the air feel heavier, making it more difficult to breathe and potentially leading to increased coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Asthmatics may experience more frequent and severe attacks during the summer. Additionally, increased wild fires leading to high air pollution can trigger respiratory distress.

How to Help Others: If you know someone with respiratory issues, remind them to carry their inhaler and avoid outdoor activities during high-pollen or high-pollution days. Offer to run errands for them if air quality is poor.


Managing diabetes can be particularly challenging in the summer. Elevated temperatures can affect blood glucose levels and reduce the efficacy of insulin. Dehydration, a common issue during hot weather, can also cause blood sugar levels to spike. People with diabetes are more susceptible to heat exhaustion and heat stroke due to impaired sweating.

How to Help Others: Offer to help with meal preparation that includes hydrating and diabetes-friendly foods. Ensure they have a cool place to stay and encourage regular hydration and blood-glucose monitoring.

Kidney Disease

Individuals with chronic kidney disease (CKD) need to be extra cautious during the summer. The kidneys are crucial for maintaining fluid and electrolyte balance, and excessive sweating can lead to dehydration, worsening CKD. Previous studies, including one from Qu and colleagues, have found that heat can exacerbate symptoms of kidney stones and increase the risk of ER visits due to acute kidney injury and urinary tract infections. Therefore, it is essential for CKD patients to stay well-hydrated.

How to Help Others: Encourage friends or family members with CKD to drink plenty of water. If they need to avoid certain types of foods or drinks, help them find suitable alternatives. Check in regularly to ensure they are feeling well.

Heat Intolerance: Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Fabry Disease, Hyperthyroidism, and more

There are a number of conditions that are associated with heat intolerance, including MS, Fabry disease, hyperthyroidism, and more. For individuals with MS, a very small change in core body temperature can lead to worsening neurological symptoms, particularly impaired balance, vision, and concentration. Patients with Fabry disease often have hypohidrosis – a reduced ability to perspire – which causes them to overheat easily, especially in warm weather and during strenuous physical activity. In patients with hyperthyroidism, the overactivity of the thyroid gland results in excessive sweating and heat intolerance. For these patients, staying cool during the summer is key to managing symptoms and maintaining quality of life.

How to Help Others: Assist in creating a cool environment for them, perhaps by setting up fans or air conditioning. Offer to help with physical tasks that might be too exhausting for them in the heat.

Coping Strategies for Summer

To mitigate the effects of heat, humidity, pollen, and smoke on chronic conditions, consider these strategies as summer approaches:

  • Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of water throughout the day to prevent dehydration and help regulate body temperature.
  • Avoid Peak Heat: Stay indoors during the hottest parts of the day (usually between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.) to minimize exposure to extreme temperatures.
  • Cool the Indoor Air: Keep living spaces cool with air conditioning, heat pumps, or fans to provide relief from the heat.
  • Wear Lightweight Clothing: Opt for light, breathable clothing to help the body stay cool and reduce heat stress.
  • Limit Outdoor Exposure: Stay indoors on days when air quality is poor or on high-pollen days. Keep windows and doors closed to prevent pollen and/or smoke from entering your home.
  • Use Air Purifiers: Invest in a good-quality air purifier with a HEPA filter to reduce indoor pollen levels and smoke particles. For those with air conditioners, heat pumps, or summer furnace fans, ensure it has clean filters to maintain a pollen- and smoke-free environment.
  • Monitor Health Closely: Keep a close eye on symptoms and maintain regular communication with healthcare providers to manage and mitigate the effects of environmental factors on chronic conditions.
  • Adjust Medications: Consult healthcare providers about the need to adjust medication dosages during hot or poor-quality weather to maintain their efficacy and prevent adverse effects.
  • Check on Vulnerable Individuals: Regularly check on at-risk family members, neighbours, or friends to ensure they are managing well.
  • Offer Assistance: For those not as impacted by environmental factors, help those that are with errands or outdoor chores.

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