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Humidity doesn’t just make you sweaty and uncomfortable—it can make you sick

High humidity can increase the risk of heat-related illnesses

July 26, 2017

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We in the upper Midwest are no stranger to hot and humid summer days. A forecast of 92 degrees is rarely the whole story once humidity begins to rise. At 60 percent humidity, 92 degrees can feel like 105 degrees. And, according to the National Weather Service, that can bump up yet another 15 degrees if you’re out in direct sun.

Most people agree that a hot day becomes increasingly unbearable when it’s humid out. But did you know high humidity can actually increase your risk of getting sick, too?

Marny Benjamin, MD, is an emergency medicine doctor at Methodist Hospital. She explains how humidity affects our bodies. And she gives tips on how you can avoid the dangerous side effects of a hot, sweaty summer day.

How does humidity affect our bodies?

Dr. Benjamin: Sweat is one of the key ways the body cools itself. But on a humid day, sweat has a harder time evaporating into the air. That’s where the hot, sticky feeling comes from. Sweat rests on our skin unable evaporate into the air.

As a result, our bodies continue to sweat and sweat—but feel no relief. Ultimately, high humidity throws the body into overdrive to cool itself. And with all that extra work, body temperature can rise.

What are the risks linked to high humidity?

Dr. Benjamin: The inability to cool down leaves us more than just uncomfortable. It actually wears down on our internal processes, too. As our core temperature continues to rise, our bodies need to work harder to try and cool us down. As a result, we begin overheating.

This can lead to our bodies losing water, salt and chemicals that they need to function. And that can result in heat exhaustion caused by dehydration and chemical imbalances within our bodies. Heat exhaustion leaves us at risk of even more serious heat-related illnesses like heatstroke.

How can I avoid the dangerous side effects of high heat and humidity?

Dr. Benjamin: When heat and humidity are high, the easiest way to stay healthy is to stay in an air-conditioned, cool space. Keeping the air dry can also make it easier for you, and your body, to cool off. I recommend trying a home dehumidifier. These are built to remove moisture from the air. If staying inside is not an option, it is important to be prepared before going outside.

Also be aware that some medicines can impact your body’s ability to cool down. For example, the antihistamines some people take for allergies can impair your body’s ability to cool off. Make sure to read your medicine labels or check with your doctor to know if you’re at risk.

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