Long Covid and coping in a heatwave

Photo by Avi Theret on Unsplash

One of the less well-known symptoms of Long Covid is an inability to regulate body temperature. Those with the condition often struggle to feel warm in winter and, in summer, can feel the heat more intensely. So how can we help our bodies cope with a heatwave? 

Summer nights can dramatically affect sleep, and yet the most commonly used fabric in bedding is also the hottest: polyester. Although it’s a man-made fibre and notoriously unforgiving, most high street bedding is, on average, at least 50% polyester. As your bedding wears out over time, consider replacing it with cotton, which has the added benefit of being longer-lasting and biodegradable. Cotton is a natural fibre which wicks heat away from the body. Percale is also a fabric to look out for in the bedding aisle: a tightly-woven fabric, usually cotton blended with a little synthetic, bamboo or silk, it is cool, crisp, and light. 

If you pillows are due to be replaced, Silentnight have recently designed ‘cool pillows’ - although any pillow with 100% cotton stuffing and fabric will help reduce discomfort (SoakandSleep.com specialise in all-cotton bedding, including duvets). Look out too for duvets and pillows filled with bamboo, a fibre which is becoming increasingly popular and is naturally cool ( Lancashire Textiles have a good range). 

Sleepeezee also got in on the act, creating the Cooler Supreme, a pocket-sprung mattress which has a 2cm ‘Staycool Gel’ topping. I needed a new mattress anyway so looked out for this one in the sales & I don’t regret it – it actually feels cold to the touch, which is divine! If you aren’t ready to change mattresses, Panda make a bamboo mattress topper which contains cool gel: it’s available on their website and in many large stores. 

I’m aware that this looks like an expensive shopping list and I know these are tough times. There’s no need to rush out and buy everything at once, but just keep fabrics and fillings in mind when you next need new bedding. 

It isn’t just bedding that affects our ability to stay cool, of course. Our poor emergency services, such as police and paramedics, are kitted out in head to toe polyester – cheaper fabric, but not ideal for those on their feet all day in this heat. Plant fibres are the best option in clothing: cotton and linen also have the added advantage of being biodegradable. Viscose, made from wood pulp, is a semi-synthetic which is less friendly to the environment, but a cooler fabric than polyester. So check the fabric content of items in your wardrobe and avoid polyester if you can. And remember that white reflects, whilst dark colours absorb heat. Big white shirts are in fashion at the moment: worn loose over a vest top, they reflect the sun and also create a breeze of fresh air as you move. 

If you knit or crochet and want to make a summer shrug or shawl, look for 100% cotton or bamboo yarn, from brands such as King Cole. Marriner yarns do a good quality mercerised cotton for a just £2.50 for 100g. Mercerised cotton has a lovely lustre to it, is more hardwearing, and less likely to lose its shape. If you sew, look online at ‘pillowcase dresses’; designed for children, the pattern can be adapted for adults. Essentially a simple tube of cotton fabric (old duvet covers are great for this!), with a space cut out at each arm to allow comfortable movement, a channel for elastic in each front and back piece, and straps – simple but cool, it can pass as a summer dress so is suitable to wear around the house or garden! 

As we wake up to another sunny summer day, homes with UPVC windows and doors can feel as if a vacuum has formed overnight – the intense heat has been contained for hours and can be suffocating, especially if you suffer from breathlessness. There is an urge to throw open all windows and doors and let in the morning air, but it’s far better to follow the sun around the house, closing windows, doors, and curtains wherever the sun is shining through them. For example, in the morning, the rear of my house is in full sun so I keep all back door windows & curtains closed. I do open the windows and curtains of the shady front rooms (safety-permitting, of course) but, as the sun moves to the front of the house, I close those and open up the back of the house. It’s also worth considering voile curtains, which are lightweight so flap in the breeze, creating a pleasant draft. To reduce the heat coming through the windows, look out for temperature-regulating blackout curtains and blinds when you next need to buy new, which also keep heat inside in winter. 

I use cheap net off-cuts to keep flies out. I cut them to size, then secure them to the window frame with self-adhesive ‘hook and loop’ (Velcro) tape, allowing me to pull the curtain open to access the window latch, then close it again. I also hung an old net curtain on a tension rod at my back door, so my house is cool but no pesky flies get in! Keeping flies out has the added advantage of avoiding fly spray, which can aggravate breathlessness.

It can be tempting to buy fans for every room but it’s worth considering investing in a portable air-conditioning unit instead. Check it is actual aircon and not just an air cooler, which isn’t as effective. Appliances Direct sell a wide range of portable air con units, although ‘portable’ is difficult to define so do check the weight of the appliance; we had to buy a trolley to wheel mine to the shed each winter! (Be sure to check that you are looking at the full price, inclusive of VAT, when purchasing from Appliances Direct). My ElectriQ air conditioner needs very little maintenance, unlike an air cooler which needs regular water changes and can soon smell of mould. 

Remember that car air-conditioning systems need servicing and regular checks to ensure they are working efficiently. Although aircon isn’t fuel-efficient, nor is driving with all the windows down, so keep an eye on your fuel gauge and on how best to keep your car cool at the lowest cost. For years, I drove a very hot Toyota, with no air-con and a black vinyl interior: I’d carry the baby’s old white cot sheets around with me and cover my steering wheel and the kids’ car seats with them whenever we parked anywhere. It’s surprising how effective white is at reflecting heat. 

If you have the energy, you could pop your bedsheets in the freezer an hour before bed. Try venting the bedroom, if you can do so safely, by turning on fans and opening windows wide an hour or so before bed. 

A quick tip about electric fans from a good friend of mine – and this comes straight from Texas, the fourth hottest state in the US (Trivial Pursuit, anyone?!) Pointing a fan towards an open window blows the hot air out of the room: this tip was also given on TV just yesterday, and I’d be interested to know if anyone has tried it! 

A hot water bottle isn’t only useful in winter. You can fill one with cold water and refrigerate it, to cool the bed down. And yes, a hot drink can cool you down but only in certain circumstances. A hot drink causes the body to release sweat but you must be able to evaporate that sweat or the cooling effect won’t work – so maybe drink it next to an open window?!

Cold damp teatowels fresh from the fridge or freezer can help quickly cool down a hot head. And, if you have a big enough freezer (and the energy to do it), place a bowl of ice cubes in front of your fan to ensure it blows cool air. Or fill a spray bottle with water and a couple of drops of lavender oil: keep in the fridge for a refreshing face mist. Remember that other products can go in the fridge too – after sun or body lotion, for example. However, I suspect sunscreen might lose its effectiveness if refrigerated. 

Above all, as with all chronic illnesses, pacing is key. Don’t push your body too hard in the heat, and ensure you hydrate fully. If you haven’t the energy for a cooling shower, try just soaking your wrists in cold water, or splashing your face and neck. If you use biodegradable baby/body wipes, keeping a packet in the fridge is a handy way to freshen up. I’m finding that any physical chores cause me to overheat and feel faint, so I’m using the heatwave to focus on paperwork chores - in front of the aircon, dog at my feet, fan on full blast, cold drink by my side! 

Finally, some advice from my four year old niece: ‘Wear sun-scream!’

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