The heat wave sweeping across the U.S. has disrupted the lives and affected the health of millions of people. Although heat-related illnesses can affect anyone, people with underlying health conditions such as diabetes, cardiac issues and skin disorders need to take extra precautions.

Know how extreme heat affects people with these conditions and the tips to stay safe:

Skin conditions

"Many skin diseases are heat-sensitive; higher temperatures can induce or exacerbate several cutaneous conditions, including skin infections, autoinflammatory skin diseases such as atopic dermatitis, hidradenitis suppurativa, acne, folliculitis and pemphigus, and even skin cancer incidence," Eva Rawlings Parker, assistant professor of dermatology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, Tennessee, told Medical Daily.

However, individual responses to higher temperatures vary among people with atopic dermatitis or eczema.

"For some, warmer temperatures and higher humidity are beneficial; however, for others, these conditions provoke flares. Regardless, during heat waves when temperatures are extremely high, itching is often more intense, and increased sweat production may result in an irritant effect, flaring dermatitis on the skin," Parker said.

What to do to protect yourself:

Although large-scale climate action is required to bring permanent solutions to rising heat, Parker believes there are many things people can do to help themselves. Simple steps like limiting outdoor activity, use of fans and air conditioning, wearing lightweight loose clothes, staying well hydrated and avoiding consumption of alcohol and caffeine can make a long way.

The American Academy of Dermatology Association recommends people with dry skin to limit their showers to once a day in lukewarm water. The use of fragrance-free cleansers and applying moisturizer to damp skin can help the skin stay hydrated.

Cardiac issues

During extreme heat, the body's natural temperature-regulating mechanism goes haywire and puts pressure on the heart to pump harder and faster for improved blood circulation and heat dissipation. The temporary additional pressure on the heart may not cause issues for healthy individuals but in people with cardiac issues, it can increase the risk of critical events such as heart attacks.

"For individuals with compromised cardiovascular health, the increased workload on the heart and the heightened demand for oxygen in the coronary tissues can lead to an imbalance in oxygen supply and demand. This imbalance can potentially trigger a chain of events that could result in cardiac ischemia (reduced blood flow to the heart muscle), myocardial infarction (heart attack) or even a sudden onset of cardiovascular collapse," Jingwen Liu, lead author of a Lancet study that evaluated the impact of heat exposure on cardiovascular health, told Medical Daily.

Tips to help:

In addition to following general recommendations to stay hydrated and avoiding excess physical activities, heart patients should ensure that their medications are stored in a cool dry place. Certain medications such as beta blockers used for cardiac issues can increase the risk of heat stroke. Also, they should not stop medications without consulting with their health practitioner. They should also check for symptoms like chest pain, rapid heart rate, difficulty breathing and dizziness, and seek immediate medical attention.


People with diabetes often get dehydrated more quickly than people without a health condition. Dehydration also causes high blood glucose levels in them.

According to a study published in Diabetes Care last year, extreme temperature can put diabetes patients at risk of developing three serious health conditions – hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), diabetic ketoacidosis (when the body produces excess blood acids and sudden cardiac arrest) and ventricular arrhythmia (abnormal heartbeats).

Tips to follow:

  • Although physical activity is essential for managing blood sugar, diabetes patients should avoid exercising outdoors.
  • Diabetes patients should frequently check their blood sugar levels, especially after physical activities as hot weather can cause fluctuations.
  • All medical supplies, including insulin, insulin pump and glucose meter, should be stored away from direct heat.
  • Watch out for symptoms of hypoglycemia such as dizziness, confusion, increase in heart rate, sweating and anxiety.

Mental health conditions

Excess heat can affect a person's mental wellness. Studies have shown that periods of high temperature increase the number of emergency room visits for mental health conditions.

In people with psychiatric conditions, high temperature can induce symptoms such as restlessness, insomnia and aggression. According to a study published by the National Institute of Health, people with underlying mental illnesses are twice as likely to die during a heat wave than the general population. Some psychiatric medications, including some antidepressants and antipsychotics, can also reduce the body's ability to control temperature.

Tips to help:

  • Stay hydrated as dehydration can aggravate symptoms such as anxiety
  • Try to get good sleep by keeping the room cool and following a sleep schedule
  • Discuss with a health practitioner to know if your medicines can cause an increased risk of overheating

"Everyone, especially people more vulnerable to extreme heat, is encouraged to stay hydrated and take precautions in extreme heat conditions, and to check on those who may be more vulnerable to extreme heat conditions," the American Psychiatric Association said in a news release last week.