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Summer in the (Humid) City

Summer in the (Humid) City

Summer has definitely arrived in New York City and you don’t need to look at a calendar to confirm this. New York is notorious for being miserably hot and humid in the summertime (very similar weather to Minnesota, actually), and I was aware of this before deciding to move here in late Spring. But, I thought and hoped with the modern conveniences of air conditioning available that it wouldn’t be a major problem. It’s funny how assumptions can really kick you in the butt, isn’t it? You’d think I’d learn by now, but no. Yes, there is AC here, however central AC in houses and apartment buildings seems pretty rare. I’ve also been surprised to find many coffee shops/bars/restaurants without central AC. Instead, sweaty heat-afflicted New Yorkers rely on the drone of AC window units chugging away and fans whirring night and day. This works OK for the most part, except you better hope that your AC unit doesn’t break. Mine did, and on one of the hottest, most humid days I’ve experienced here so far. To say I felt like dying that day, with sweat running down my face even while I lay motionless on my bed, my right ankle puffed up like a water balloon–that wasn’t much of an exaggeration. I don’t do well in heat and humidity. My RA certainly doesn’t like it, either.


During all of my nearly-18 years of having RA, people continually ask me if certain things “trigger” flare-ups or make my RA better or worse. Can you tell if a storm is coming? No. Does the cold weather make your arthritis get bad? No (I actually like it, for the most part). Does drinking cherry juice while standing on your head make your arthritis better? Yes, of course. But seriously, no, no, no. Day-to-day I don’t usually notice significant things that affect my RA–whether it’s the weather, a giant gluten sandwich, acupuncture needles stabbing my body, or a copper bracelet wrapped around my wrist.

But there is one thing that absolutely makes my RA worse and that’s humid weather–compounded even more by high temperatures. Heat and humidity drive my poor right foot and ankle CRAZY. My fingers and wrists tend to swell more, too. Maybe it’s odd that I’ve always preferred cool weather for my RA, when it seems like so many people with arthritis are always going on about how the cold weather makes them worse and they need to be in a warm climate. Not me. Give me dry, cool air please. Let me stick my foot in a freezer for a while. To me it makes sense that heat and humidity would aggravate someone’s joints with RA, because your body is already inflamed. Humidity increases swelling in people who don’t have RA or any kind of inflammatory disease, so it seems that it would cause extra problems with those of us currently battling inflammation.

Yeah, humidity. I really hate it. It makes my fingers puffy from prednisone look even more like little sausages, and limits their ability to move and bend and function comfortably. Stiffness gets worse, bloating gets worse, fatigue skyrockets, and aches I usually don’t have reappear. But stiffness, bloating, increased fatigue, and aches are easy to deal with compared to what the humidity does to my ankles–especially my right foot and ankle (my notoriously chronic “problem areas”). My right ankle and foot are constantly swollen and in pain anyway; I’ve written about this in previous articles about my frustration trying to get help for this “flare-up” that seemingly never goes away. So I’m walking around and standing on a swollen and painful foot and ankle on a daily basis, which I’ve had to adapt to, of course. In “normal,” pleasant weather I can deal with it pretty well, most of the time. But when it gets to be summertime and the heat and humidity hang around for days on end, my foot and ankle often become unbearably uncomfortable and intensely PAINFUL.

So what can I do when the weather becomes tropical for days at a time? So far the best solutions or “treatments” I’ve come up with are using ice packs on my foot and ankle as much as I can. Wrapping my ankle to help constrict the swelling also helps, although this often causes discomfort because I don’t like anything touching my ankle when it’s hurting. Wrapping and icing at the same time works pretty well, though. The only other things I can think of are to keep my feet elevated the best I can, and to hibernate in wonderful cool air-conditioned rooms if possible. If you have any other good ideas about how I can lessen my heat and humidity suffering in NYC this summer, I would love to hear them. I’m already starting to have nightmares of my foot exploding as I stand waiting, sweat-drenched, in the stifling subway underground in July and August.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • tshaffer
    3 years ago

    I was so glad to read this. I haven’t heard anyone else talk about the foot/ankle pain. Validating to hear it from you. It is the worst symptom of my RA so far, though it is all irritating to say the least. I have discovered a new therapy for my RA that is out there, but it is working for me and it keeps me off the Prednisone and other drugs. I am in the beginning trials of using it, but about 3 months in and I am very pleased. I am using apitherapy (bee venom therapy). My husband catches a bee from our hives and puts it in the fridge for a few minutes, grabs it with tweezers and stings the afflicted joint. It stops the RA in about 10 minutes and I am getting about 15 days pain free. CRAZY COOL! I googled it to learn about it. Thank you for your article. It helps alot.

  • Richard Faust moderator
    3 years ago

    Thanks for the input tshaffer. Ankle problems can certainly lead to other difficulties because they hinder mobility so much. Here are a couple of articles from contributors discussing ankle issues:
    https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/living/strong-weakest-joint/
    https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/surgery/foot-and-ankle-surgery/

    Good luck with the bee therapy. Please keep us posted on the progress. Best, Richard (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • Kyras
    3 years ago

    I found this on a search for RA humidity and heat. It’s July 19, 2016 and I live in southern California about 15 miles inland from Newport Beach. The humidity and warmth have got my left knee feeling stiff and achey. I did the prednisone 6 day pack because both of my knees but mainly my left one hurt, and the Prednisone helped, but I’m done with it and my right knee is back aching full force. People who don’t have RA tell me I’m exercising too much. Ha. I knew it was the humidity. I was in the Sierra Nevada mountains for 4 days where it is relatively dry and my knees were fine up there. As soon as I got back closer to the coast and humidity the knee started aching once again. I’m glad to read this post and know the truth. BTW, I’ve been on Plaquenil and Enbrel for years.

  • Richard Faust moderator
    3 years ago

    Kyras, so glad that you found this article helpful, but sorry that you are having difficulties. Here is another article from one of our contributor’s about a flare and the role of humidity: https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/living/all-flared-up/. Hope you continue to find useful information here. Best, Richard (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • SofiaRA
    4 years ago

    The humidity and rain really bother my RA. I lived in Phoenix AZ for about three years and I felt so much better with the heat, but there is normally very little humidity unless a monsoon comes through briefly. I was diagnosed with RA in mid 2012 at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale. I am back in Indiana now where I grew up, and I am miserable. We have a lot of humidity,rain, cold and snow which do contribute to my hands, and knees swelling a lot. I have had very bad flares in the winter here including acute Uveitis which blinded me for a month during Christmas of 2013. My Raynauds is much worse and I can’t seem to keep my hands and feet warm enough. They have not been able to get my RA under control after I moved back to Indiana. I have tried DMARDs, and now I am starting my 4th biologic. I think for me a big problem is the inconsistent weather I don’t think my body can adapt to the constant changes, and the stress brought on by rain, cold and snow.

  • Richard Faust moderator
    3 years ago

    SofiaRA sorry to hear that you are having this difficulty getting the RA under control and a proper course of treatment. I don’t know if you have spoken to your rheumatologist about combining conventional medications and DMARDS, but here is an article from the editorial board looking at this: https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/treatment/combinations-of-conventional-and-biologic-dmards/. Please keep us posted on any progress and come to the forums with questions. Best, Richard (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • Michelle
    4 years ago

    Angela, thank you for writing this. People look at me like I am crazy when I say my RA is always worse in the summer. I am in Philly and we have wicked humidity. I have a similar foot/ankle issue every summer (11 years running).
    I wonder if the assumption that RA would be easier to deal with in the summer comes from people’s assumption that RA is just like arthritis. Someone recently asked me why my RA would be worse, when all those retirees with arthritis move to warm climates…well RA isn’t the same for one!
    Give me a cold snowy day over a day at the beach!
    Sending you cool thoughts!
    Michelle

  • Richard Faust moderator
    3 years ago

    Michelle, you are so right about people not understanding the difference between RA and osteoarthritis. I have no idea how often I have tried to explain to people that what my wife has is very different from what they are thinking of. Here is an article that does a good job of explaining the differences: https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/living/arthritis-is-arthritis-right/. Best to you, Richard (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • Stefanie
    4 years ago

    Hello Angela,

    I totally agree! I love winter. The cold, dry weather doesn’t bother me at all. I’d always rather be wrapped up in blankets then sweating in humidity. I’ll think cold thoughts for you…

  • rhonda
    4 years ago

    I’m so glad I read this. I thought I was the only one who’s body rejects the humidity. As soon as I walk out the door at 6am the humidity hits me like syrup being poured on me and creeping into my joints. I find that I have less flare days in cold weather. Most people think I’m crazy because so many prefer the heat for there ra. I say “let it snow”. Weather here in Ohio is very humid currently. My 12yr daughter did make me the cutest cool wraps. She cut the top off of an old pair of thick socks and put them in the freezer it’s compression and ice pack all in one. Try to stay cool.

  • Richard Faust moderator
    3 years ago

    Thanks for the tip Rhonda. I don’t know if I ever would have thought to do that with the socks – leave it to a child! Let us know if you have any more. Best, Richard (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • Carla Kienast
    4 years ago

    Yikes! I feel for you. On the first triple-digit day of the summer for Dallas, my AC literally blew up. (Fortunately no fire department.) A week later, still living in a hotel, we’re finally able to have it replaced. It’s interesting what triggers our symptoms, isn’t it. For me it’s cold. Wishing you a comfortable rest of the summer.

  • Angela Lundberg author
    4 years ago

    Hi Carla!

    Thanks for your comment and support. Yes, it is interesting what triggers RA flares from one person to the next. I MUCH prefer the cold to the heat and humidity of summer.

    Wishing you a great summer too! And I hope your AC doesn’t blow up. 🙂

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