Managing menopause hot flashes in the summer

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Coping with menopause hot flashes can be a particularly trying time in a woman’s life. Some may experience hot flashes for up to 10 years from perimenopause all the way through post menopause. Signs of a hot flash can include a sudden feeling of heat; a red, flushed face; sweating and an increased heart rate. Add the summer heat and humidity, and hot flashes can be downright unbearable. 

While not every woman will experience hot flashes in the same way, you can help control them -- whether they’re mild and tolerable or more severe and troublesome -- by making key lifestyle changes and talking with your doctor about remedies and prescription medications that are right for you. Hot flashes can make the summer seem eternal but, if you follow these tips, you can prepare to beat the heat and cool down when they happen.

Cynthia Evans, MD, an obstetrician and gynecologist at The Ohio State University Medical Center who specializes in treating menopausal women, recommends several strategies to manage hot flashes so they interfere less with your life. 

“Menopause is a time to reexamine your lifestyle. It’s an opportunity to adjust routines and become healthier,” says Evans.

  • Avoid hot drinks and hot or spicy foods, especially in the summer, as well as alcohol, caffeine and cigarette smoking.
  • Reduce your stress by practicing self-calming techniques such as meditation, yoga, acupuncture, or massage.
  • Begin or continue with a fitness program, which will help you get more restful sleep. Avoid exercising in the heat or a warm room, as this can trigger a hot flash. 

“During menopause, eating healthy and exercise are no longer optional; they are the only way to avoid weight gain in menopause and the cardiovascular complications that can arise in postmenopausal women,” Evans says. “Weight-bearing exercise is also important as it helps prevent osteoporosis, a thinning of the bones that can lead to painful fractures,” she says.

  • Wear layers of clothing made from light, breathable fabrics that you can remove when you’re hot and replace when you’re cooler. Cooling products, including sprays, gels, and cooling pillows may be helpful. A frozen washcloth can also work for a quick cool-down.
  • When you feel a hot flash starting, try to relax. Relaxation breathing or paced respiration, which is slow, deep, abdominal breathing, in through your nose and out through your mouth, can be helpful. Breathe only five to seven times per minute, much more slowly than usual.

Summer cool-down tips

  • Wear all cotton clothes that let your skin breathe. 
  • Walk barefoot on a cold tile floor. 
  • Keep a cold (non-alcoholic) drink in one hand and a fan in the other.
  • Turn on the air conditioning or notch down the temperature to make it more comfortable.
  • If you’re going to be outdoors for any length of time, get a neck cooler that you can put in the freezer then drape around your neck. 
  • If you have a hairstyle that can air-dry, all the better so you can avoid styling your hair under a sweat-inducing hair dryer

How to stay cool at night while sleeping

  • Keep the room temperature cool (65 degrees or colder) to prevent night sweats
  • Dress in light, breathable fabric. 
  • Use layered bedding that can be easily removed during the night. 
  • Run a fan at your bedside. 
  • Put a drop or two of lavender essential oil on your pillow to help relax and prepare you for sleep. 
  • Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even on weekends.
  • Keep a frozen cold pack or bag of frozen vegetables under your pillow, and turn the pillow often so that your head is always resting on a cool surface. 
  • If you wake up during the night, get out of bed and read until you become sleepy, sip cool water, meditate or practice relaxation breathing. Use your bed for sleep or sex only.

Evans says it’s important to discuss symptoms and treatment options with your Ob/Gyn. 

There are several options available to treat hot flashes not relieved with lifestyle changes, and new products are being developed, she says.