Staying Dry And Cool
You—and your medications—can benefit from being cautious about humidity
Evaporation is your body’s AC. When you sweat, the liquid transforms into water vapor, releasing its energy and heat from the remaining bead of sweat on your skin. This leaves your skin cooler. This is why having a fan blowing won’t cool off a room, but it will cool you off. The air moving quickly doesn’t bring down the temperature, it increases the evaporation rate.
Humidity—you’re familiar with it, right?—reduces the evaporation rate. Sweat does not evaporate as much if there is already a lot of water vapor in the air.
“The high humidity in the South reduces evaporative cooling from the skin, leading to great risk of overheating,” says Peter Rippey, MD, of St. Joseph’s/Candler Medical Group – Bluffton.
Heat-related illness can cause stomach cramping, nausea, headaches, and excessive thirst caused by dehydration. If a person notices these symptoms, they should immediately drink fluids (avoiding caffeine and alcohol), remove tight or extra clothing, take a cool shower or bath if possible, or use cool towels or fans.
Left untreated, heat exhaustion could lead to heat stroke, a medical emergency in which the body’s core temperature is greater than 104 degrees Fahrenheit. A heat stroke can cause serious damage to the brain, nervous system, and other organs.
Certain medications can affect your ability to sweat or may raise internal body temperature, increasing the risk of heat illness. Discuss with your doctor any medications, vitamins, or supplements that you take to see if any of these might affect your body’s ability to cool down, especially if you know you will be spending a lot of time in the heat this summer.
Speaking of medications, Dr. Rippey tells his patients that those need protection from humidity as well.
“Medications should be stored somewhere dry,” Rippey says. “The bathroom medicine cabinet is actually a bad place to keep medications, as that room tends to get more humid with showers. Also, some medications, such as nitroglycerin tablets used to prevent angina, can be degraded by sunlight. The best place for medications is somewhere with a stable temperature and low humidity.”
Protect Yourself This Summer
Dr. Rippey reminds everyone to:
- Drink plenty of fluids before and during outside activity
- Exercise in the morning or evening when it is cooler
- Store medications in a dry place away from sunlight
- Don’t forget sunscreen!