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Impact on hot weather and humidity on RA - causes flares and painful swollen joints

Summer Swelling

It’s July, and July in Minnesota (usually) means hot, muggy, humid, tropical, oppressive, and miserable weather. The miserable part is my own opinion, of course; some crazy people love living in a landlocked swamp for three months out of the year. You might be thinking: What? Hot and tropical in Minnesota? Doesn’t it snow there year round? Granted, we did have a blizzard at the end of April this year, however recently the thermometer has been soaring into the upper ’80s and ’90s with extremely high humidity.

My RA symptoms flare during humidity

Stepping outside now is like sticking your head into a hot oven (I imagine) and the AC everywhere is chugging away non-stop. If you don’t believe me, then feel free to ask my ankles–my whole body, really. It’s not happy. The heat and especially the humidity of summer take a large and painful toll each year, sending my RA into an out-of-control explosion of inflammation. Or, at least it feels that way. When your joints are already swollen from RA, summer-weather-swelling on top of it can be a lot to bear.

Funny enough, most people associate heat and warm weather with joints that feel good, not worse. Even if you have RA joints. Well, not my RA joints–they hate it. My weather fantasies consist of 65-70 degree days with sunshine and low/zero humidity. Or chilly autumn briskness when my ankles seem to magically shrink in the cool, dry air. Ahhh, this is so much better than feeling like a giant, bloated sweatball every day.

Remedies for the humid and hot weather with RA

So what can I do about this sticky, swollen situation other than complaining about it until September? Move? Ha, I wish. Unfortunately, right now moving to a cooler and drier climate isn’t an option, so I have to sweat it out here (bad pun intended). I’m not sure if these are particularly good or healthy tips or not, but the following are some of the things I try to do to fight against summer RA flare-ups:

  1. Stay indoors in the delicious cool air conditioning!
  2. Use ice packs (buckets of ice?) for swollen feet and ankles (and anything else).
  3. “Water” your feet. If I’m home, letting ice-cold backyard hose water cool down my throbbing feet feels really great (maybe this is weird, but who cares).
  4. Don’t overdo it with lots of walking or activity if it’s hot and humid outside.
  5. Go swimming!
  6. ICE, ICE, ICE.
  7. Stick your head in the freezer for a while. Or your hand. Or anything.
  8. Did I mention ice? Sorry, I’m trying to come up with 10 things here.
  9. Drink a lot of water because…it’s good for you and helps everything.
  10. Drink a lot of margaritas until you don’t care that you have elephant ankles.

So these are my “tips” and I honestly partake in all of them. Well, don’t worry, I’m not drinking margaritas 24/7. I mix it up with rosé and cocktails, too. But on a more serious note, another thing that I try to do to help my RA behave a bit better during the summer is be more conscious and diligent about nutrition and what I’m eating. This means: more water, less sugar, less/no refined sugar/carbs, vegan diet (no animal products), whole/”clean” foods (no preservatives, chemicals, weird crap, etc.), less/no gluten. Sticking to this diet isn’t easy, of course, especially when you want to stuff your face with ice cream or guzzle 50 iced lattés on a steamy hot day. But! It helps. It helps me, anyway, and I have definitely seen real and noticeable changes regarding swelling and pain when I’m being strict about my diet. Also, there are a lot of really tasty vegan and vegetarian recipes for summertime meals and dishes–FRESH VEGETABLES! Take advantage of those, says me.

What are your tips or strategies for keeping the RA swelling and pain away during the summer? I’d love to hear them.

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

  • Kathlene
    4 weeks ago

    I totally identify with you on the fact that people assume when it’s warm outside we’re okay, but we’re not! Seems to be common knowledge that’s cold and rain makes us hurt. I’m from Tennessee where the weather is bipolar! During the summer is usually always humid. Fall is my favorite season but I think it may be my best season… Not too hot, not too cold.

  • Reba
    4 weeks ago

    I live in Florida and FEEL your misery, contrary to popular belief our oppressive humid climate wreaks havoc on my RA. I LIVE for the few days, (used to be, years past a few weeks/months of “winter” lol) that we have dry ,cool days. We often vacation out west, there I can truly FEEL GOOD!!

  • David Advent moderator
    4 weeks ago

    Thanks for sharing your experiences, @reba! I also live in Florida, and the humidity affects my RA terribly. When rain or winter comes, I take it as a blessing. I wish you the best on your journey with RA!

    -David (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team Member)

  • sondecicada
    4 weeks ago

    Well . . . thus far . . . the only things that work for me are cold showers. Not “cool” showers. COLD showers. I take an average of 4 cold showers a day. I drink a lot of COLD water. I live in South Florida where intense heat and profound humidity begins in April and lasts through December. So? I don’t go outside much. Only very early when the sun is just beginning to rise and in the late afternoon when the sun has almost completely set.

  • mseelhoff
    4 weeks ago

    Ummm, I am an hour south of Houston and 45 minutes from the coast. It’s June and it 97F with 88% humidity. Or heat index of 108! My joints love love the heat. Gets the circulation going, and sweat all the toxins out. If it drops below 60f I am in agony! I keep my house at 81f. Just cool enough for some relief from the oppressive humidity. We have to keep the a/c on or things start to grow mold and mildew! Wood especially! You don’t know heat till you experience south Houston thru May-October!

  • Nene
    1 month ago

    The temperatures where I live has been 80 – 90 degrees. The “feel like” temps have spiked into the hundreds. I’ve gratefully been content to relax with my fan, ice water, & fruits.

  • Diann400
    11 months ago

    I live in Central Fl. Seems to me a month before my 68th birthday I woke up to painful wrist and every joint in my left hand. Wrist was very swollen all fingers hurt as well ,yet all finger tips felt like they were asleep.A week later swelling had come down some I had bite on top of wrist. Had checkup at heart Dr showed him my wrist answer was You will be fine never examined it. Ok I was puzzled he blew me off like that. Following week had my checkuo with primary care Dr. He gave ne cream to put on bite mark due to extreme itching. Said if not gone in week call skin Dr get him to bioposy it. He sent me for Ra test came back neg. Its now June. Left wrist was bad now right wrist and fingers joined the party. Trust me un invited guest . Left foot and ankle joined in. Foot Dr said you need to see rhuematoligist gave me name so here I am 3 months in still numb fingers thst is maddening seems nothing is safe from possible breakage. Fingers that dont want to bend ankle looks deformed Ra Dr ha tried me on 4 different meds all caused more swelling everywhere. Now on prednisone for 10 days with folic acid .2 days from now 6 methotrexate all at once no Folic acid that day but day after for 6 days then methotrexate ect ect. Pred had done nothing yet is this normal? Sorta scared of Methotrexate after reading about it . Any suggedtions are welcome. Thanks

  • KarenG.
    11 months ago

    Thanks for the tips…. I could use them, living in the swamp also known as Oklahoma!

  • Susan
    12 months ago

    I also suffer from heat & humidity. I have to live inside during summer in a/c. Even going out for 5 minutes will start my ankles hurting. Thank you so my for writing this, my Rheumatologist acts likes it’s in my head! She said it’s not common for heat & humidity…. but we’re all different ! Peace to you.

  • Angela Lundberg author
    12 months ago

    Thanks for your comment, Susan! What?? Heat and humidity (especially humidity) is TOTALLY common with affecting RA and inflammation. Maybe you need a new rheumatologist? My healthcare providers all agree with me (on this at least), thankfully. Hang in there! It’s my ankles and feet that are also the worst affected.

  • Monica Y. Sengupta moderator
    12 months ago

    Oh no! Generally, I do the same thing, I also get massive sinus infections from humidity so I feel like I just can’t enjoy the summer as I used to!

    Cabin fever is never a good feeling. Please know you can come here any time if you need extra support! ~Monica

  • Monica Y. Sengupta moderator
    12 months ago

    Hey Susan! I’m sorry humidity is a major trigger for you! I thought you might like this article I wrote about how humidity affects me. Like you, heat and humidity both affect my RA. https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/living/swamp-monster/

    I wish your doctor acknowledged your triggers! Many community members are affected by humidity as well! Do you have ways of combating flares when they come?

    Thank you so much for sharing!! ~Monica

  • Susan
    12 months ago

    Monica, I’ve been on Methotrexate, Plaqunil, Enbrel and now on Humaria. The only answer I’ve found is to hind from the heat and humidity- I stay inside in the a/c. I don’t get inflamed inside, but still exhausted. Unfortunately, I feel like a prisoner in my own home. Can’t go out. 🙁

  • tckrd
    12 months ago

    I also have the summer swells unfortunately cold ac makes the pain worse as does ice. What helps me is good old warm salt soak.

  • Monica Y. Sengupta moderator
    12 months ago

    Hey tckrd!! I am the same way! Ice and cold don’t affect me well so I always opt for a heating blanket instead!

    Thanks for sharing! 🙂 ~Monica

  • MaryB
    12 months ago

    Thank you Angela. Your comments about “swelling” have hit the target. I thought that RA would feel the best in hot weather. Boy, was I wrong!! Your comments have not only helped the “mind” of RA but the body too. Thanks for sharing. Best of luck to you and everyone. Have a good day. Peace and Blessings.

  • Angela Lundberg author
    12 months ago

    Thank you, Mary!

  • Rasufferer
    12 months ago

    Agreed, Angela! Dealing with the same in Chicago

  • Angela Lundberg author
    12 months ago

    Oh yes, Chicago weather is often like Minnesota weather. Hang in there! 🙂

  • DParker
    12 months ago

    Me too! Chicago burbs! Ugh

  • GGcRA
    12 months ago

    I am so glad I read this. I didn’t realize it was heat and humidity causing the swelling.I an in Maryland ,its been hot,humid rainy and I am swollen and hurting (different from a flare-up) and was wondering why Ifelt had when it was just hot and humid I felt worse than when it rain.
    Thanks for the tips

  • Angela Lundberg author
    12 months ago

    Thank you for your comment and for reading the article! I’m so glad if I could help in any way. I know Maryland, DC, etc, are super humid…I could never live there. Do you feel better in AC? Come to the Midwest for some dry, cold winter weather. 😉

  • Monica Y. Sengupta moderator
    12 months ago

    Hey GGcRA! Yes! I live in the DMV area myself and what is with these random LONG stretches of rain storms? To say this summer has been difficult is an understatement, right??

    Thanks for sharing! All the best and I hope you stay dry ~Monica

  • GKeson
    12 months ago

    I enjoyed your article. I have had RA for almost 30 years and humidity affects me as well. I’m from Michigan but moved to Arizona last September. Cold and damp makes my symptoms worse too. I stay inside 2-3 months here because of the heat but in Michigan I was staying inside for 5-7 months. I appreciate your humor and hope you feel better soon. 53 and tired of this disease.

  • Angela Lundberg author
    12 months ago

    Thanks so much for your comment and support. I haven’t been to Arizona yet…must try it out! I don’t think I could live there year round, though. Hope you feel better, too!

  • Frazzled
    12 months ago

    I live in Minnesota as well, and have also been suffering through a very difficult Summer season. I have my own pool in my backyard, but even then I don’t use it as often as I could – the lovely effects of MTX and other medication makes me so photosensitive that I have to use a ton of sun screen and have to limit my sun time anyway. Fortunately, we’re at a place where we can move, and are probably going to be moving to a new state soon to remove the humidity as part of the issue. I would still come back 4 times a year for heck-ins with my Rheumatologist at the Mayo, but that’s a short airplane ride away.

    What I have found is that for me it is not the inflammation so much as it is the fatigue that happens when it is hot and humid, or just humid, or we just have a weather system moving through. My diet is fine – I’m on the Automimmune Protocol and it has helped quite a bit since I started ~7 weeks ago – but even then there are flares that break through. I certainly hurt (my pain registers a 5 on most days anyway) but that is not my chief complaint.

  • Angela Lundberg author
    12 months ago

    Thanks for your comment! Where in MN are you? Curious! Twin Cities? The last couple of days have been so wonderful, with cooler drier weather. Looks like it’s back to humidity and HEAT today though. Noooo! I’m glad to hear that your diet has helped a lot. That’s great!

  • Shelby4087
    12 months ago

    I live in Florida where it is hot and humid for at least six months. My strategy is to hibernate in reverse. I limit my outdoors time in the humid weather as much as I can. I stay inside with AC to ease my joint pain. Yes, ice works too and exercises.

  • Angela Lundberg author
    12 months ago

    Hi, thanks for your comment. Wow, Florida. I could never live there with RA! I’ve visited many times (going to the beach) but I know the weather would kill me if I spent a lot of time there. Best of luck to you!

  • jdaph
    12 months ago

    aw yes,, I too suffer so much with the humidity, and also air conditioning,, I don’t like either one,, so we keep our air conditioning on pretty high,, just cool enough to survive,, Ive been swollen a lot this summer from the humidity, and dampness, I find that pool therapy does help while Im in the pool..

  • Nina Winterbottom moderator
    12 months ago

    Thank you for sharing these thoughts, @jdaph. I’m sorry you’ve been especially swollen this summer. It has been an extremely humid one where I am. Good to hear that the pool has been helping. We have a few community advocates who are fans of water therapy, sharing one experience here: https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/living/water-therapy-ra/. Wishing you well! – Nina, RheumatoidArthritis.net Team

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