When we think of summer, most people think of vacation, relaxation, and more time spent outdoors. If you live with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), you may add increased risk of dehydration, symptom changes, or covering up from the sun to that list.
However, just because there’s a bit more to think about when the season changes doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the long, warmer days.
Here’s how to survive — and thrive — all summer long with IBD.
Understanding how the seasons may impact your body can be useful.
Some people with IBD may feel better in the summer months, which could be due to increased vitamin D from spending more time outside, or from vacations making them feel more relaxed.
However, others find their symptoms worsen.
In a 2013 study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, IBD flares increased by 4.6 percent during heat waves. The reasons for this aren’t exactly clear, but it may be because extremely hot weather can act as a stressor on the body, potentially triggering a flare-up.
Because diarrhea increases the amount of fluids you lose, many of us with IBD are at an increased risk of dehydration. This is more prominent in the summer months, when extra fluid is lost through sweating when our body temperature rises.
Those with an ostomy are at a higher risk.
The colon’s job is to reabsorb fluid. Since those with an ileostomy don’t have a colon, more fluids leave the body through the stoma. Therefore, it’s especially important for those with an ostomy to know the signs of dehydration.
Keeping track of your fluid intake can help negate the risk of dehydration. An easy way to do this is to use a water bottle with a tracker or even an app to send you reminders to grab another glass of water.
It’s important to not just keep track of water if you suspect you’re severely dehydrated. For example, some people with IBD might benefit from a specific rehydration solution that also replaces the electrolytes they lose when dehydrated (such as sodium and potassium) rather than just water itself.
Regularly applying a sunblock or high SPF sunscreen is really important in the summer months.
Many medications for IBD, including steroids and azathioprine(Imuran, Azasan), increase the skin’s sensitivity to the sun (meaning you’re more at risk of burning).
Some drugs, such as biologics and immunosuppressants, can slightly increase your risk of skin cancer. Therefore, staying out of the sun, covering up, and using a strong sunblock can help manage this risk.
Many people eat seasonally, opting for richer, warm cooked meals in the winter and grazing on raw fruits and vegetables in the summer.
The problem is that sudden changes in diet could potentially irritate your bowel.
For example, a sudden switch to a high fiber, raw diet may cause issues if you’re in active flare.
Talk with your doctor about seasonal changes to your diet, and always ease in.
Your doctor can advise if you need one of these. In a pinch, they might suggest making a homemade rehydration solution for the summer months. St. Mark’s Electrolyte Mix is a common rehydration recipe that is often recommended, but always speak with your doctor before trying it.
Whether it’s undercooked meat at barbecues or picking up a bug while on vacation, summer gatherings can be a potential trigger for gut problems — even if you’re not experiencing a flare-up.
Whatever your summer plans, it’s vital to follow food safety guidelines and practice good hygiene, including handwashing, throughout the summer.
One benefit of the enhanced hygiene routines that have become common for most of us during the COVID-19 pandemic is that you’re likely already doing many things to protect yourself. So keep it up!
In addition to monitoring your water intake, it’s important to monitor your alcohol intake in the summer months, too.
Alcohol can be a trigger for gastrointestinal symptoms with IBD. Since summer is often time for vacation and relaxation, many of us may unwittingly drink more alcohol in summer months. It’s important to be conscious of this and monitor how you feel.
Studies are limited around the potential benefit of taking a probiotic with IBD. Some research shows that they may be helpful for those with ulcerative colitis, but there’s less evidence that they’re beneficial for those with Crohn’s disease.
However, if you’re leaving the country this summer, your doctor may still recommend you pack a probiotic in your suitcase. This is because a probiotic may help prevent issues like traveler’s diarrhea, which can be easy to pick up in some countries when you’re not used to local foods.
We all know how important medication is for keeping on top of IBD, but the summer months may make it harder to stay organized with this.
If traveling a long distance, speak with your doctors way in advance to ensure you have enough medication for your trip. You may also need to plan for special arrangements, like refrigerating your medication.
A pill organizer may be useful to keep track of your medication during busy periods.
If traveling abroad, you may need to get a letter from your medical team and speak to the airline if you’re traveling with biologics, such as adalimumab (Humira), as these shouldn’t be placed in checked baggage.
While summer may pose some potential challenges for those with IBD, it’s also really important to enjoy it if you can.
We all know that relaxation and stress management can help our physical and mental health, so use the summer months to unwind, explore the great outdoors, and spend time with the people you love.
Article originally appeared on May 27, 2021 on Bezzy’s sister site, Healthline. Last medically reviewed on May 28, 2021.