Thursday, July 18, 2013

Autoimmune Life: Here Comes the Sun...and the Umbrella?

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The recent heat wave has been really tough on me. Like many autoimmune disease patients I know, I struggle with heat and strong sun of the summer months. This summer, as others in the northeast know, as been particularly bad.  The other day, I walked to the farmer's market before ten o'clock and it was already too hot and sunny for met to be outside.  (I am on several medications, which make my skin particularly sensitive to direct sun then there is the chance of a flare.) The rays of the sun felt like they were burning my skin after about five minutes.  By the end of my twenty minute outing, I felt fatigued, nauseous and my skin was already red. I had to stop in a store for a few minutes on my way home to cool down and make sure I could make it home in one piece. 

This kind of heat reaction happens to me even with the many sun protection measures that I take, which I know are common for my fellow autoimmune friends.  I have developed a pretty reliable playbook:

1. SPF 30 or above sunblock
2. The big floppy UPF protected hat, 
3. Big sunglasses with UV protection. 
4. Staying in during peak sun hours
5. Keeping my arms and legs covered.

It's a short list, but easier said then done. The last one, dressing like it's October, in particular can be annoying when it's already 90 degrees and wearing even light long sleeves can just add to feeling hot.  Staying inside except for later in the evenings has been the only strategy that is full-proof but it is difficult in practice and leaves me feeling a bit antsy.  Who wants to have to stay inside during the summer months?  I love the summer. I have to do enough of the hibernation during the winter.  

So, for obvious reasons I've been looking for a strategy to be outside during heat--if only for short periods of time so I can do at least do a few errands.  I've finally come up with something that helps. It's a radical new invention: an umbrella!  

Of course, I've sat under umbrellas at a pool or on a vacation at the beach, but I had never thought of holding one just walking around in my neighborhood.  I suppose this is what aristocratic women used to do to protect their skin in pre-sunblock days so I'm in good company. I'm not sure why ladies' umbrellas went out of fashion but I'm told they are still very popular in China. Even intuitively it make sense that an umbrella is more effective than a hat in almost every respect.  I've found some compact umbrellas online with UPF protection that should work well both rain or shine.  

If you had told me ten years ago I was going to walking down the street on a sunny day in July with an umbrella I would have thought you were nuts. However, many things have changed in my life since being diagnosed with autoimmune disease. My concern about what I look like walking down the street is far down the priority list.  So, if you see someone walking down the street on a bright summer day with an umbrella, perhaps, like me, it's not that they mis-heard the weather channel, but that they are just taking a walk on the shady side.


  1. I agree with your list, as I do the same thing myself being Sjogren's and very sun and heat sensitive. Have not tried a summer umbrella, but that is a a good idea. As part of my summer go to, I use a hand water sprayer bottle that has a shoulder strap for carrying. It uses a battery. They sell these at places like at the beach, toy stores, dollar stores perhaps, or at Wal Mart or K Mart. It has a finger trigger to spray water, and an on off button which turns on the fan while it sprays. Delightful and cooling in the heat, and everyone I am with seems to want a spritz from me too.

    1. Thanks for sharing this suggestion. Definitely sounds like a good way to cool off when overheated and to help friends and family on hot days.