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5 RA-Related Symptoms to Be Aware of in Summer

Managing RA

June 18, 2024

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Photography by MementoJpeg/Getty Images

Photography by MementoJpeg/Getty Images

by Lana Barhum


Medically Reviewed by:

Stella Bard, MD


by Lana Barhum


Medically Reviewed by:

Stella Bard, MD


My rheumatoid arthritis (RA) symptoms tend to be milder as the weather warms up, but it doesn’t mean it’s easy for me to be out and about during the summer months. After all, my RA doesn’t go on vacation.

I live in Northeast Ohio, so we’ve been getting warmer temperatures of 70°F (21°C) and above since the beginning of May.

While the warmer weather has been gentler on my joints, I’ve been noticing other symptoms that are somewhat related to my rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

This includes seasonal allergies and more allergic asthma attacks, joint pain as I spend more time outdoors, dehydration, fatigue, and even medication sensitivity.

Here’s how these symptoms affect me, and how I manage them.

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1. Seasonal allergies and allergic asthma

The inflammatory responses that cause RA are also involved in seasonal allergies and allergic asthma.

Seasonal allergies are more commonly referred to as hay fever. They occur when your immune system overreacts to an outdoor allergen, such as pollen or ragweed. These can change with the seasons but mostly occur in the spring, summer, and autumn as flowers and trees bloom.

Allergic asthma is when your asthma is induced by allergens, including these seasonal ones. Heat and humidity during summer can also make breathing more difficult and trigger asthma symptoms.

Research shows a significant link between asthma, allergies, and RA. People living with RA also tend to have more than one allergic condition.

For me, May, June, August, and September seem to be the peak time for my allergies and allergic asthma.

When my allergy symptoms are active, this puts a damper on my summer fun and can also increase the possibility of an RA flare.

Solution: Get ahead of symptoms

I do everything I can to get ahead of allergy symptoms.

Right now, that means using a fluticasone nasal spray (for example, Flonase Sensimist) twice a day and taking a daily allergy medication to keep nasal congestion, sneezing, runny nose, and itchy, watery eyes at bay.

I also asked my doctor to prescribe an appropriate inhaler that stays with me when I’m outdoors and temperatures are high so that I can better control any asthmatic heat responses.

Should allergies or allergic asthma become a problem while you’re out and about, find a cool, indoor place to hang out.

If you’re struggling to breathe, you should use an inhaler as instructed by your doctor, or visit an emergency room.

Consider using an antihistamine medicine that can directly treat allergy symptoms. Most antihistamines improve allergy symptoms within half an hour to an hour.

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2. Joint pain while traveling

Traveling with RA can be difficult regardless of the mode — whether boat, plane, car, or train.

While warmer weather tends to improve my RA symptoms, including joint pain, the very act of traveling more during this time of year can lead to a flare of symptoms.

For me, the idea of traveling with RA joint pain tends to induce stress, which in turn can make my symptoms worse. I do what I can to plan travel to avoid joint pain and enjoy my adventures.

Solution: Pack the essentials

When traveling, I pack strategically and lightly with my medications in my carry-on luggage.

I also keep any favorite items (i.e., neck pillow, supplements, and healthy snacks) and any comfortable footwear to reduce foot pain, in my carry-on luggage.

I always keep my pain toolkit nearby, which includes my compression gloves and socks, topical and oral pain meds, heat and cold packs, and my portable TENS machine.

It can be difficult to find the right balance between packing light and bringing everything you may need in case of certain symptoms. Be prepared, but try to leave behind things that aren’t necessary or that could be bought at your destination.

If I’m driving or sitting for long periods as a passenger, I find time to take stretch breaks. A lumbar support or tailbone pillow can also help me to avoid back, hip, and leg pain if I have to sit for long periods.

3. Fatigue from warmer weather

Even for those not living with RA, warmer weather can cause fatigue.

High temperatures and heat waves can cause people to feel lethargic, drained, and weak.

This can be even more difficult when living with RA, when spoons can already feel depleted at the best of times.

Add trying to enjoy your favorite activities, travel, or yard work to your summer plans! When fatigue hits you, it can feel like your summer is over just as it starts. But that does not have to be the case for you.

Solution: Pace yourself

I’m someone who wants to “do it all,” but I also need to pace myself and prioritize breaks. If I rest, I prevent additional pain, and I conserve my energy so I can enjoy my day and sleep soundly at night.

Pacing myself requires planning. Whether I’m traveling with family, spending the day out and about, or doing yard work, I need to schedule my time. By planning only 75% of my day, I leave room to take my time and rest if I feel fatigued.

If I enjoy an activity and then take a few minutes to sit quietly in an air-conditioned or dark space, I allow my body to rest and get my energy back up.

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4. Hydration levels

We sweat more in hot weather, which means we need to replenish our fluids more often.

Hydration is vital for keeping joints lubricated, improving joint movement, and managing fatigue.

Being hydrated can also make a positive difference when it comes to managing inflammation, pain, and energy levels.

But staying hydrated during the warmer months can be a challenge.

Solution: Remember the wonders of water and the happiness of hydration

I work to increase my water intake in the summer months.

If you don’t like drinking water, consider an oral hydration drink like Electrolit or Gatorlyte. These oral hydration solutions are sold in liquid and powder packets and might help prevent dehydration. I’d recommend the sugar-free options as sugar can be a trigger to flare RA symptoms.

I also try to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables since they’re naturally hydrating.

5. Medication sensitivity

Some medications used to treat RA, including methotrexate and Plaquenil, can cause skin sensitivity when you’re out in the sun.

Others, like corticosteroids and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), can cause excessive sweating, which can lead to skin issues and becoming overheated and dehydrated.

Solution: Avoid heat-medication effects

For medications that cause skin sensitivity, it’s important to limit sun exposure. Fortunately, you can still enjoy summertime without being outdoors on hot, humid days.

You can enjoy:

  • a visit to an indoor community or recreation center pool
  • time on your shaded patio, if you have one
  • an evening walk
  • outdoor dining under an umbrella at your favorite restaurant
  • local excursions during less humid and sunny hours

If you are outdoors, wear sunglasses, a wide-brimmed hat, and light clothing to cover exposed skin. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB light.

Talk with your healthcare professional about reducing your medication dosage or switching to another treatment that does not cause sweating or sun sensitivity. Over-the-counter deodorants can help manage excessive sweating.

Learn more about coping with sun and heat sensitivity when living with RA.

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The takeaway — I will not be deterred

During the summer, my body seems to get some relief from RA’s effects, and there is so much I want to do and see outside.

I treasure this time, but I have to be mindful of other symptoms that can occur because of the heat.

This means learning to be prepared and cautious as the weather changes while not letting RA deter me from enjoying time with family and friends.

Stay cool and safe out there, RA friends! Summer is almost here, and we all deserve to enjoy it.

Medically reviewed on June 18, 2024

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About the author

Lana Barhum

Lana Barhum has been a freelance medical writer since 2009. But she has been writing since she was old enough to create stories, and now, 30-plus years later, she is still using written words to express herself and help others navigate life with chronic health conditions. Having lived with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia since 2008, she has used her own experiences to share expert advice on living successfully with chronic disease and provide answers about various health conditions.

Lana holds a master’s degree in legal studies and a bachelor’s in business administration and has worked for more than 20 years in the legal field. She has worked in a variety of legal settings where healthcare knowledge was a necessary part of the job and uses her background and experiences to educate others on chronic health conditions and various aspects of healthcare. Find her on her website and LinkedIn.

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