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TBI and Heat Sensitivity: How to Stay Cool After Brain Injury

woman sitting on couch in front of a fan, holding a cold cloth on her forehead, dealing with TBI and heat sensitivity

Heat sensitivity is a common problem for many TBI patients. After a brain injury, you may be more vulnerable to problems such as heat rash and you can be at a higher risk of heat stroke.

In this article, you will learn more about the causes and effects of heat sensitivity after TBI, plus tips for staying cool in warmer weather.

Let’s get started.

Causes of Heat Sensitivity After TBI

The human body possesses a complex heat-regulating mechanism that keeps the body at a balanced temperature. This delicate process is controlled by the hypothalamus, the part of the brain in charge of numerous bodily functions.

The hypothalamus helps balance body fluids and controls the release of hormones that play a part in temperature regulation.

When the body gets too hot, the hypothalamus releases hormones that cause blood vessels to swell. This allows more heat to be carried by the blood to the skin, where the heat is then released into the air.

The hypothalamus also works with the middle layer of the skin, or dermis, which stores most of the body’s water in sweat glands. When the hypothalamus activates these glands, they bring that water to the surface of the skin. The water then evaporates from the skin and cools the body.

If the hypothalamus becomes damaged after a brain injury, the body cannot regulate its temperature. As a result, heat sensitivity can occur.

Symptoms of Heat Sensitivity

woman runner closing eyes and resting because she has heat sensitivity after TBI

©iStock/Interstid

The symptoms of heat sensitivity after TBI can vary from person to person. Some of the most common side effects include:

  • Feeling hot in mildly warm weather
  • Excessive sweating
  • Nausea
  • Not sweating enough
  • Mood swings when too hot

Excessive heat can also stop nerve fibers from working. This makes it difficult for messages to get to and from the brain, which can cause problems such as:

  • Confusion
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Balance and vision problems

Symptoms of Heat Stroke

Heat stroke occurs when body temperature gets too high, causing illness. TBI patients with heat sensitivity are at an especially high risk of heatstroke.

Symptoms of heat stroke include:

  • Body temperature above 103 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Red, hot, and dry skin
  • Strong, rapid heartbeat
  • Throbbing headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Unconsciousness

Heat stroke can be life-threatening. If you experience any of these symptoms, call 911 and start taking measures to cool yourself.

One of the best ways to cool down is to spray water on your body and sit by a fan. This is especially helpful if your brain injury has affected your sweat production.

Managing Heat Sensitivity After TBI

To avoid heat stroke and other complications, it is crucial to know how to keep your body temperature under control.

Since you can no longer rely on your body to do this naturally, you will need to take extra precautions.

The following are a few tips to help you manage heat sensitivity after a TBI.

1. Stay hydrated

Staying hydrated is perhaps the best way to avoid overheating. The extra fluid in the body helps regulate body temperature and replenishes the water lost through sweat.

It also helps blood flow more easily through the vessels to the muscles, which can prevent fatigue and weakness.

Don’t wait to drink until you are thirsty, as this usually means you are already dehydrated. Instead, take regular drinks throughout the day. If you have difficulty remembering to drink, set an alarm on your watch or phone every hour and drink then.

You do not have to only drink water to stay hydrated though. Foods such as strawberries and other fruits contain a lot of water as well, and eating them can help you stay cool.

2. Plan your trips

If possible, plan to only go outside during the coolest parts of the day. In most places, that would be in the morning before 11 am or in the afternoon after 3 pm.

You should try to do your therapy exercises in the morning or evening as well. This can help prevent heat exhaustion.

3. Dress cool

woman with sun hat and summer blouse smiling on beach

©iStock/Ridofranz

Your clothing can cause you to overheat. That’s why it’s best to wear light colors and breathable fabrics, such as cotton.

Also, avoid wearing dark colors, as these absorb sunlight and heat.

You should also make sure to bring cooling devices like ice packs or portable fans with you wherever you go. These can help you cool down in an emergency.

Finally, your head and feet are the areas most vulnerable to heat, so make sure to wear breathable shoes and a hat whenever you are outside.

4. Keep your environment stable

Try to avoid going back and forth between hot and cold environments, such as an air-conditioned building to warm outdoors.

Because your brain can no longer regulate body temperature efficiently, changing the environment quickly like that can wreak havoc on your body.

It’s ok to go back inside if you are hot, but try to stay inside as much as possible. This can help you avoid fatigue.

5. Take care of your skin

Heat sensitivity can cause red and dry skin. Therefore, make sure you keep your skin clean and moisturized.

Pay special attention to folds of skin where heat and moisture can build up and cause problems.

TBI and Heat Sensitivity

Heat sensitivity can be a challenging TBI side effect to live with.

Although there is no cure, learning the best treatment strategies and cooling measures can make the heat more manageable.

Talk to your doctor for more ideas on how to deal with heat sensitivity after brain injury.

©iStock/tommaso79

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