Introduction to How to Survive a Heatwave
Welcome to this post on How to Survive a Heatwave. A state of emergency has been declared in the UK as the Met Office has issued a red weather warning for extreme heat. Temperatures of up to 40oC are expected next week on Monday and Tuesday. This is the first time ever, that a red warning has been issued for temperature. The Met Office advises that there will be population-wide adverse health effects. These are not limited to those most vulnerable to extreme heat and can lead to serious illness or danger to life.
In this post, we focus on spoonies with dysautonomia symptoms and cover:
- Why heatwaves are challenging for spoonies
- How to keep your environment cool
- How to keep yourself cool
- My no.1 tip!
- Planning for bedbound spoonies
- Signs of heatstroke
Why Heatwaves are Challenging for Spoonies
Heatwaves can be more of a health risk to some groups of people. Specifically, the very young, elderly people and those with underlying health conditions. According to the NHS most at risk are people with heart or lung conditions, diabetes, kidney disease, Parkinson’s disease, some mental health conditions, people who are bed bound, those with drug or alcohol addictions, or with Alzheimer’s disease.
How to Survive a Heatwave with Dysautonomia
People with dysautonomia also find extremes of temperature challenging. Dysautonomia is a disorder of autonomic nervous system, this can include difficulties with thermoregulation. Thermoregulation is the body’s way of regulating it’s own temperature, for example sweating to cool itself down. Dysautonomia symptoms can be made worse by heat, especially if there is insufficient sweating. The opposite can also occur; poor circulation caused by low blood volume or blood pooling can cause cold intolerance.
Chronic conditions which can include dysautonomia symptoms include:
- Parkinson’s disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Sjogren’s syndrome
- Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis
Whilst much of the advice in this post is generally applicable we focus particularly on spoonies with dysautonomia.
How to Keep Your Environment Cool
Making the effort to keep your environment cool will help to keep you more comfortable. Especially, once the heatwave is in it’s 2nd or 3rd day onwards. It’s best to keep windows closed and curtains/blinds drawn during 10am to 6pm. Air out your home early morning or in the evenings. Some people like to keep their windows open all night which helps the walls to cool too. Obviously consider security if you’re planning to do this.
If you can, stay in the coolest environment possible, either at home (find the coolest room) or a shady spot in your garden. In the UK the hottest part of the day is 11am to 3pm so it should be cooler indoors then.
If you’re one of the lucky few with air conditioning – enjoy! Others might consider buying a portable unit or the personal (table top) units which take a filter you freeze first. Bear in mind the smaller the unit the less of an effect it will have and those with water will make the air more humid. There are a lot of factors which affect your home’s temperature (type of building materials, which direction it faces, whether it’s terraced or detached etc) so use thermometers to find the best spots at different times of day. A domestic thermometer is about £4, digital ones a bit more. There are also digital weather stations which come with an indoor and outdoor thermometer.
It’s best to avoid travel and exercise altogether; instead save your energy for your body to cope with the heat. If you must travel or exercise, avoid it during the hottest times of the day.
How to Keep Your Yourself Cool
The best clothing is loose, light and natural such as a thin cotton. If you’re going outside don’t forget a hat and sunscreen. Make sure you keep hydrated, the best thing to drink is water. Keep caffeinated and alcoholic drinks to a minimum. Eating several smaller, lighter meals throughout the day will keep you cooler than a few larger, heavier or richer ones. Choose foods with a high water content to keep your hydration up such as fruit or salads.
Many people find fans helpful, they’re good for evaporating sweat from skin to keep us cool. There’s a huge range available. E.g. personal ones you wear on your neck or hold in your hand and larger ones such as desktop or freestanding. The more sophisticated ones are designed to be faster, quieter and come with automatic timers or remote controls. Prices vary according to size and capability.
My no.1 tip
This is the best tip I’ve learned for instantly cooling you down if you’re too hot.
Cooling down your feet will cool your whole body!
Our feet play a vital role in regulating our body temperature. Like our hands, they have a large surface area and lots of blood vessels. So, keeping them cool will stop you from over heating. A clever way to give the body an instant cool down is by dipping your feet in cold water for a couple of minutes, putting them on an ice pack (or hot water bottle filled with ice cubes) or putting on socks from the freezer.
If you have the energy, then a tepid bath or shower can also help.
How to Survive a Heatwave: Extra Tips for Bedbound Spoonies
I know from experience that being bedbound during a heatwave is truly horrendous. And when symptoms are bad we often can’t think clearly. So it pays to plan ahead! Heatwaves are typically forecast in advance so being prepared is possible. Make a plan for what you need and who will be available to help you. I’m sharing mine below but everyone is different so adapt accordingly. You may need to stock up on foods which you can tolerate, cushions to help with positioning, fans and gel packs, extra pain relief or other meds. Make sure your meds are in a cool place too; many medicines need to be stored below 25C but not all can be refrigerated (check individual labels).
- Large supply of water in small easy-to-lift containers, kept in a little ice bucket to keep it cold
- Gel pads for sliding into my pillowcase (2 on rotation so one is in the fridge whilst I’m using the other).
- Black out blind and curtains for the window, lamp giving soft lighting (as substitute for daylight).
- Thin cotton sheet instead of a blanket
- Gel eye mask (kept in fridge when not in use) and lots of cotton socks in the freezer
- A free standing fan (takes a while to find ideal distance, speed and angle)
- Lots of cucumber, tomato, watercress, watermelon, pineapple and strawberries for snacks
Signs of Heatstroke
It’s likely that a heatwave will cause an exacerbation of symptoms. It’s important to differentiate that from heat exhaustion which can turn into heatstroke. The NHS lists the main symptoms of heat exhaustion as:
- a headache
- dizziness and confusion
- loss of appetite and feeling sick
- excessive sweating and pale, clammy skin
- cramps in the arms, legs and stomach
- fast breathing or pulse
- a high temperature of 38C or above
- being very thirsty
If someone experiences these symptoms, they need to be cooled down quickly. The best way to do this is to: move them to a cool place, lie them down and raise their feet slightly, get them to drink plenty of water (sports or rehydration drinks are OK) and cool their skin (spray or sponge them with cool water and fan them). You can also put cold packs around the armpits or neck. They should start to cool down and feel better within 30 minutes. If they aren’t better after 30 minutes, the NHS advises calling 111.
You should call 999 if a person has heatstroke and has any of the following symptoms:
- fast breathing or shortness of breath
- a fit (seizure)
- loss of consciousness
- not responsive
If the person looses consciousness whilst you’re waiting for an ambulance, put them in the recovery position.
Conclusion to How to Survive a Heatwave
Remember to take care of yourselves and of those who are vulnerable. Also, don’t forget your pets; they need hydration and shade too. Don’t take dogs for walk on hot pavements, it could seriously harm them.
These are all our best tips for how to survive a heatwave. Do you have any favourite tips for keeping cool? How to you plan to cope with heatwaves? Let us know in the comments below.
If you’ve found this post useful, you might like some of the others in the Aids and Adaptations part of the blog.