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Healthy Aging

By Sheryl Kraft

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The last time I wrote about hot flashes was back in February, when it was so frigid that stepping outside was almost painful. But I suspect it was a relief to you if you were coping with those mighty power surges. Throw open a window or step outside and voila—instant cool.

Now that the heat of the summer is engulfing the country, it's not as easy to find immediate relief from those hormonal waves of sweat. And hot weather is a big hot flash trigger. I see it every time I am with a friend who is in the midst of menopause. I easily recognize that dazed and dreaded look that precedes the hot flash; I watch sympathetically as the droplets of sweat start to form on her upper lip; I offer a cold glass of water or even a handful of ice cubes when she starts to squirm uncomfortably or look like she might just pass out.

I feel so helpless, though, sitting by and just watching my friends suffer. And when they ask me what I did when I was going through it, I search my mind for an answer and come up with nothing more than "I carried around a pretty fan," or "I dressed in layers and packed away, for an indefinite period of time, anything that wasn't 100 percent cotton."

Last night I was out for dinner and went to the ladies room, where I encountered a woman hovering helplessly over the sink, frantically splashing cold water on her face, looking absolutely panicky when she saw me walk in. Her face dripping wet, she looked up from the sink  and muttered something that sounded suspiciously like, "thesehotflashesarekillingme!"

Feeling helpless once again, I could only nod my head and manage a sympathetic smile.

Then I got home and hit the computer. My research yielded an array of suggestions. And even though it is late for me, perhaps I can save you some misery when it is your turn, or you can pay it forward for a friend who is swimming in her own sweat.

  • Sip a cold drink. If you feel a hot flash coming on, this could help lower your body's temperature.
  • Pay attention to what you eat and drink. Hot and spicy foods, caffeinated drinks and alcohol can all be triggers.
  • Breathe. Anxiety over the hot flash can actually worsen it. Work on steadying your breathing; practice yoga, meditation or other helpful relaxation techniques.
  • Don't smoke. Tobacco use is linked to an increase in hot flashes.
  • Wear layers of clothing so you can peel them off when a hot flash hits.
  • Consider complementary or alternative treatments. We all know the jury is out on hormonal or bioidentical hormonal treatments. And I'm in no way endorsing using any of these, but many women successfully manage their hot flashes with soy, flaxseed, herbal remedies, acupuncture, vitamins, mild sedatives or medications that are used to treat depression or high blood pressure.
  • Freeze something. An ice-cold washcloth taken from the freezer and placed around your neck can cool you off in a hurry. There are also products on the market that contain tiny crystals inside a swath of fabric that you can drape around your neck. Or do as one friend of mine does—open your freezer and stick your head right in!
  • Lose weight. Losing excess pounds can significantly alleviate—or even eliminate—hot flashes. Researchers found that each 11-pound decrease in weight yielded 33 percent greater odds of improvement in hot flashes. It's not entirely clear why overweight women suffer more; some theorize that excess fat traps heat, leading to more sweating and flushing to cool the body; or that obese women's blood vessels react differently to heat or stress.

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