Do humidity and heat affect rheumatoid arthritis? For some people living with this autoimmune disease, there's no question that hot weather triggers their flares and increases joint pain compared to the winter season.

But, in the medical community, the debate rages on. A British study in Nursing Times reviewed several research studies on how weather affects arthritis. The results were conflicting and didn't bring health professionals or arthritis patients any closer to understanding whether heat and humidity affects the condition.

What became a little clearer in this review is that how humidity and heat affect arthritis may not be the main issue. Instead, dynamic weather—transition from one weather state to another—may have a bigger impact on this inflammatory disease.

The study cites research from 1985 showing evidence that a combination of weather conditions worsened arthritis symptoms—in particular rising humidity and falling barometric pressure. It was noticeable that static weather patterns did not cause much change; it was the transition that affected symptoms.

These findings were backed up by another study that indicated increased pain and swelling reported by patients with arthritis could be the result of a disparity in pressure between fluid within the joints and falling air pressure outside. Air pressure drops during stormy weather, which is more common in hot, humid weather.

How to Cope With Humidity and Heat When You Have Arthritis

Although some researchers are tempted to dismiss the connection between weather and arthritis as purely psychological, it doesn't help those who have first-hand evidence that humidity and heat make your symptoms worse.

Here are a few things you can do to weather changes in your symptoms:

  • Monitor the weather. If you're aware of unstable conditions - such as a sharp rise in temperature or humidity - you can plan to make appropriate adjustments, such as using a dehumidifier or fan in your home, or increasing medications as directed by your doctor.

  • Limit sun exposure. For some people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) sun exposure can trigger flares, as it can for people with gout or lupus. In some cases, skin may be even more sensitive when you have RA. Use a sunblock of at least 30 SPF, or wear a hat and sun protective clothing.

  • Make flexible work arrangements. Negotiate with your employer to work from home when the weather is extremely hot or humid, or if there's going to be a major change in conditions.

  • Use cooling systems at home and work. A fan, air-conditioner or dehumidifier may provide relief when humidity and heat affect arthritis symptoms.

  • Create shady areas at home. You shouldn't have to completely abandon your backyard or patio in summer. Plant shady trees, use awnings or gazebos with nettings to create cool spots and bring your fan outdoors.

  • Eat cool foods in summer. Some foods generate lots of body heat, such as spices and cooked food. Opt for moisture-filled foods such as citrus fruits, leafy greens, cucumbers and watermelon. Or, use canned fish and meats instead of cooking.

  • Go for a dip. If humidity and heat affect aggravate your symptoms, the Arthritis Foundation recommends heading for the pool. You can do therapeutic exercises in the water, such as walking and balance exercises. The water keeps you cool and protects your joints to give you more relief.