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Most people look forward to the warm summer holiday, but it can be the most uncomfortable time of the year for those with heat intolerance. In this article, we explore its causes and how you can beat it.
What is heat intolerance?
Heat intolerance is a condition best described as a feeling of extreme discomfort in warm environments or whenever there is a rise in ambient temperature. The human body requires a steady balance between heat production and loss. However, there are lifestyle and health conditions that can upend this balance, leading to heat intolerance.
In contrast to heat-related conditions like heat stroke, which arise from hot weather or excessive exercise, heat intolerance is usually the result of endocrine disorders, drugs, or medical conditions.
Symptoms of heat intolerance
The symptoms of heat intolerance will differ between different people but generally include:
- Feeling uncomfortably hot in moderately warm temperatures
- Fatigue and exhaustion during warm weather
- Mood changes whenever you're feeling hot
- Not sweating enough when it's too hot
Common causes of heat intolerance
Stress and anxiety
Stress sets off a chain reaction that ultimately leads to a rise in body temperature and puts you at risk for heat intolerance. Whenever your brain detects a threatening or stressful situation, it activates the sympathetic nervous system to help you handle it. This will make you feel hot. You also may start sweating, especially if you're anxious or beginning to panic.
These symptoms tend to disappear as soon as the stressful situation is resolved. However, chronic stress can lead to a permanent increase in your body's core temperature, a condition known as psychogenic fever.
The years leading up to the menopausal transition are characterized by fluctuating estrogen levels. Studies suggest that these changes affect the parts of the brain tasked with body temperature regulation. This may explain why most women going through menopause experience sudden sensations of warmth that are often accompanied by sweating, flushing, and chills.
A woman's hormonal balance changes dramatically during pregnancy. This change may affect how her body responds to heat. About 1 in three women report feeling excessively hot during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy.
Hyperthyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid produces too much thyroxine. It may increase the sufferer's metabolism, leading to symptoms like sweating, irritability, and palpitations.
Medications can alter the way your body responds to heat, making you more sensitive to temperature changes. This effect is commonly observed in allergy and blood pressure medications and decongestants.
Blood pressure medications can limit the amount of blood that reaches your skin, consequently limiting your ability to sweat.
Other drugs that may cause heat intolerance as a side effect include
- Hormonal preparations
- Zinc supplements
- Anti-depressants like Nortriptyline
- Recreational drugs like MDMA and Amphetamine
Caffeine is a stimulant capable of increasing metabolism and heart rate. This can increase your body temperature and make you feel uncomfortably warm.
Heatstroke, especially if it is poorly managed, reduces the body’s tolerance towards heat. If the condition is not addressed quickly, it may damage functions that enable your body to regulate temperature, causing you to experience heat intolerance.
Besides the causes discussed so far, specific chronic conditions or diseases may put people at risk for heat sensitivity. They include
- Multiple sclerosis
MS is an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system. It attacks the protective membrane that covers the organs that comprise this system, interrupting nerve signal transmission. This may gradually lead to heat intolerance.
Type 1 and 2 diabetes harm the blood vessels, nerves, and sweat glands. The damage caused may negatively impact the body's ability to dissipate heat.
Obesity affects heat tolerance in two ways; first, it leads to increased heat production. Then it hinders heat dissipation. These conditions put you at an increased risk for heat disorders like intolerance.
Ways to beat heat intolerance
Before you can find an effective remedy for heat intolerance, you must come to terms with what it really is - a symptom.
It is often an indicator that something is going wrong. So, although you might be able to cool yourself off when you feel overheated, you won't be able to prevent the condition from returning if you do not address the root cause.
In the sections below, we discuss a few potential remedies and adaptive strategies.
Adrenal Adaptogenic herbs
This solution works best if the heat intolerance is caused by obesity since the condition is typically accompanied by elevated cortisol levels, which are known to cause heat intolerance.
Adrenal adaptogenic herbs can help lower cortisol levels and reduce weight, thereby eliminating your heat intolerance problem. Consult a homeopathic doctor for advice on the best combinations for you.
Electrolytes are essential minerals like potassium, sodium, and calcium that are required for key bodily functions. They help cells transmit electrical signals to other cells. Since you lose electrolytes whenever you sweat heavily, it is vital to replace them as soon as possible. They may not address the root cause of your heat intolerance but will help prevent it from getting worse.
Vitamin E can treat hot flashes in women going through menopause. A medical study in 2007 concluded that participants who took the supplement experienced a significant reduction in the intensity of hot flashes. It is unclear if vitamin E treats intolerance in men and non-menopausal women. However, the supplement offers several health benefits.
Cooling vests are designed to keep lower core body temperature to prevent heat exhaustion and related problems. There are several cooling vest types with varying features and price points.
Electric or battery-powered vests, often called active cooling vests, can be more expensive but keep you cool for longer periods. Passive cooling vests rely on natural processes to keep the body cool, like evaporation. Their relatively low pricing makes them ideal for athletes and people who work outdoors or on industrial jobs.
Additional tips to help you stay cool
- Avoid medications that induce heat intolerance. If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, multiple sclerosis, or hyperthyroidism or believe that you may suffer from any of these conditions, you should consult your doctor for assistance.
- Stay in cool environments, seek out air-conditioned indoor spaces, and under the shade as much as possible.
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- If you're on medications, adhere to your doctor's prescriptions.
- Transfer exercise and intense activity during cooler parts of the day or air-conditioned indoor spaces.
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