Published on 12 June 2023.
Asthma, diabetes and other common health issues can worsen in a heatwave. Here, Vitality’s Dr Kiran Johal explains how to manage yours as the warmer weather takes hold
Much of the UK experienced its first heatwave over the weekend with temperatures hitting the late 20s and even early 30s.
Increased heat impacts many people in the UK living with certain health conditions. With heatwaves becoming increasingly common, knowing the signs to watch out for and the precautions to take to keep safe has never been more important.
We asked Vitality medical adviser Dr Kiran Johal to tell us about some of the common health issues that can be exacerbated by the hot weather and how to manage them.
“Asthma is a common lung condition which causes narrowing of the airways resulting in symptoms of wheeze, chest tightness and shortness of breath.
These symptoms usually flare up in response to triggers including exercise, infections and allergies to animals, dust mites and pollen. Extremes of heat and cold are also well-known trigger factors.
Heatwaves can worsen asthma for two reasons. Firstly, the pollen count and pollution levels are generally higher during the summer months resulting in poorer air quality which can irritate the airways.”
“Secondly, breathing in hot air can directly cause the airways to narrow and therefore increases your risk of having an asthma attack.
To take better care of your asthma during the summer months, it is advisable to keep an eye on the pollen counts and pollution levels in your local area before you head out. If these are high, try to stay indoors if you can.
If it’s not possible to stay inside, try to keep on top of your symptoms with antihistamines, especially if you regularly suffer from hay fever.
It’s really important that you carry on taking your regular preventer inhaler as usual, and make sure you always have your reliever inhaler with you wherever you go. Everyone loves a barbeque in summer but remember that the smoke and fumes may set off your asthma too.”
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“Diabetes is a condition which causes the blood sugar levels to become higher than normal. People with diabetes usually manage this with regular insulin injections or by taking oral tablets.
The hot weather can make diabetes more difficult to control as dehydration can increase your blood sugar levels.
Spending long periods of time lounging in the sun can also make your blood sugar levels rise. When you are less active your body doesn’t need to remove and utilise the glucose in your bloodstream.”
“The heat can also increase the risk of blood sugar level becoming too low – known as hypo. This can happen if you use insulin to manage your diabetes, as your metabolism may work faster in the heat, and the drug can be absorbed more quickly.
People with diabetes are also more prone to suffering from heat exhaustion because your blood vessels and nerves may not be as effective at cooling your body down.
Some tips for managing your diabetes during the heatwave including staying hydrated, frequently testing your blood sugar levels, wearing loose-fitting clothing and staying in the shade.
Be extra vigilant for those hypo symptoms like sweating and tiredness, and make sure you always have your regular medications and a sugary drink to hand. If you want to enjoy favourite summertime tipple, drink in moderation (as always!) as alcohol can dehydrate you further.”
At Vitality, we understand it can be hard to manage your long-term health, particularly your weight.
That’s why we have partnered with Second Nature, a one-to-one coaching app, which provides you with the tools you need to manage your weight over time.
Complete your online Health Review and see if you are eligible to take part in a personalised 12-week programme, as well as access to the app for 12 months for just £20.
Terms and conditions apply. Find out more by visiting Member Zone.
Heart and circulatory disease
“There are many conditions which affect the heart and blood vessels, including high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, heart failure and peripheral vessel disease.
The hot weather generally means our hearts must pump harder and faster to cool us down in order to maintain our body’s core temperature.
When it’s hot, we tend to sweat more and this can cause dehydration and loss of important minerals and electrolytes, which can put further strain on our hearts.”
“Our hearts usually adapt to this change without us noticing, but people with heart conditions may find it more difficult and are therefore more susceptible to heat stroke, especially if they’re very young or elderly.
Follow the same guidance as before to keep cool and stay safe in the heat. Make sure you keep hydrated by drinking plenty of water and avoid drinks that might dehydrate you, like caffeine or alcohol.
Stick to the shade, wear lightweight loose-fitting clothing and avoid doing any vigorous physical activity. Don’t forget to use sunscreen also.”
“Migraines are a type of severe headache that can cause intense pain in the head, face and neck and are associated with other symptoms like visual problems, nausea and vomiting.
They can be triggered by several things including certain foods and drink, changes in hormone levels, bright lights and stress.
Hot weather makes us sweat and become dehydrated which can bring on migraines and headaches in general.
Changes in temperature and humidity, air pressure and bright sunlight can also trigger migraines during the summer months.
If you’re prone to migraines, be sure to drink plenty of water and wear sunglasses to protect yourself from the bright sunlight. Be extra aware of the things that usually set off your migraines, like lack of sleep and alcohol and avoid these triggers if possible.”
Members of Vitality that have a health insurance plan can contact us straight away if they have a health concern and can be referred to our one-stop clinic. You won’t need to go through your GP first, just log into Member Zone and visit Care Hub for more.
However, if you’re not insured with Vitality, please contact your GP as soon as possible and they can refer you to the NHS pathway should you require it.
Or if you are interested in taking out a plan with Vitality, visit vitality.co.uk for more details.