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Is It Just Me Flashing Or Is It Hot In Here?

What to do when experiencing both an external heat wave and an internal one.

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illustration of popsicle with female legs laying down in puddle of sweat
Ana Cuna
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We all know summer days that are boiling hot. Forecasters warn that when the temperature is in the 90s and higher, we should stay indoors, if possible, and be careful about heat exhaustion.

Perhaps the only thing more uncomfortable than an external heat wave is an internal one — and worse, the combination of both simultaneously.

If you suffer from menopausal hot flashes, summer heat and humidity are not your friend. Stephanie Faubion, M.D., chair of and a professor in the Department of Medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, and the medical director of the North American Menopause Society, says, “Heat can be a trigger, so summer is a rougher season for women who suffer from hot flashes.”

What is a hot flash?

For anyone who has gone through menopause without experiencing a hot flash, congratulations! According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, “Hot flashes, or flushes, are the most common symptom of menopause. About 75 percent of all women have these sudden, brief, periodic increases in their body temperature.” Hot flashes usually begin when women are in perimenopause, the phase before the cessation of menstruation. Approximately 80 percent of women will experience hot flashes on and off for two years.

“Women describe hot flashes as a sudden intense feeling of heat in their chest, neck or head, although if you took their temperature, it wouldn’t be above normal,” Faubion explains. Other symptoms of a hot flash can include blotchy or flushed skin, a rapid heartbeat, perspiration, dizziness, nausea and chills (following the heat).

“Hot flashes are a dysregulation of the body’s internal thermostat in the brain, caused by fluctuating hormones in menopausal women,” Faubion continues. “Although annoying and uncomfortable, hot flashes themselves are not dangerous. But some women who experience certain patterns of hot flashes may be at a higher risk for heart disease.”

Beat the heat

Although hot flashes can occur in any season, summer can worsen them. Beat the heat by doing the following:

* Wear light, breathable fabrics, such as cotton.

*Dress in layers. Choose clothes that are perfect for peeling off as needed, depending on how warm you feel.

* Watch what you eat and drink.

While staying hydrated in the warm summer months is essential, partaking in a cold glass of rosé or an iced latte is not the best way to beat the internal heat. Unfortunately, alcohol, caffeine, spicy foods, tobacco and hot beverages are all hot flash triggers.

* Wear waterproof makeup.

After applying an SPF to your face, choose waterproof (sweatproof) foundation, eyeliner and mascara. Finish with a setting spray (which you can keep in the fridge so you’ll have a cool spritz). Also, less is more, so go for a natural look in the summer.

*Use a personal fan.

A personal fan is an all-natural, inexpensive and effective way to feel immediate relief from the heat. When you pull it out of your purse, your flashy friends will probably remark what a genius you are to carry one.

*Apply a cold compress.

Keep an ice pack or wet washcloth in the freezer and place it on your neck during a hot flash. It may additionally help to stand in front of an open refrigerator for a few minutes.

Another known way to decrease hot flashes is by using hormone therapy (HT), also known as hormone replacement therapy. “Women don’t just have to suffer through this stage of life,” Faubion says. “There are treatments, and while HT isn't for everyone, it is the most effective tool we currently have for improving quality of life for many women suffering from menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes.”

Forget magic pills

In December 2022, The New York Times ran an article about the “menopause gold rush” and how treatment for menopause, including herbs and supplements, had become a big business. But Faubion cautions women not to seek a magic potion to end their hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms. She explains: “These companies are trying to address an unmet need for this age group and drive the economy in the process. Save your money. Nothing currently being offered over the counter has been proven to work.”

Instead, Faubion urges women to speak with their medical providers. “If your physician says nothing can be done about hot flashes and you just have to deal with them, find another physician,” she says. Since the pandemic, telehealth options have increased, allowing women to have access to medical care beyond just their local providers.

Faubion advises women to be wary of “prescription mills,” which will offer medication without conversation. There are different types of hormone medications (including pills and transdermal patches) to choose from. A medical professional can determine which is best for you and take the time to weigh the benefits versus the risks of HT; these will vary by individual. “Women taking HT need to be monitored and continue to follow up with their regular gynecological screenings,” Faubion adds.

How do you cope with hot flashes during the hot summertime? Let us know in the comments below.

Follow Article Topics: Health