With multiple sclerosis (MS), you may experience heat intolerance or Uhthoff phenomenon, which is worsening of your symptoms when exposed to heat. In fact, even an increase of half of a degree is enough to make you feel unwell. Avoiding excessive heat and being sure to cool down when your body gets warm can make you more comfortable and may even relieve some of your symptoms.
There are a number of strategies and cooling products you can use to prevent your body temperature from rising, and it is important to have some items handy just in case temperatures rise.
Heat’s Effect on MS
Heat intolerance and Uhthoff phenomenon can be a continuum. For example, you might feel uncomfortable or exhausted in the heat. Sometimes, it feels like the heat makes you slow down, while a parade of your MS symptoms marches through your body. Then, you cool off, and things come back into focus.
In a true MS exacerbation, neurological symptoms are secondary to the development of one or more MS plaques in the brain or spinal cord and specific treatment is needed. Cooling down your body temperature can’t reverse an MS exacerbation, but it can make you more comfortable and may alleviate some of your symptoms while you recover.
When you use any strategy to cool down, moderation is key. Excessive cold can actually worsen MS too.
3 Women Share Their Experiences Managing MS in the Heat
Strategies for Staying Cool
There are a number of lifestyle adjustments you can make to avoid becoming too warm and to cool down if you start to feel hot.
Plan Your Day
Try to schedule your day so that you are doing outside chores or running errands at times when the sun is not at its peak.
Wear breathable, loose-fitting clothes, and considering keeping a hat in your car so you have it handy when you need it. You may also want to keep an umbrella handy so you can use it to block the sun, if needed.
Use Cold Washcloths
Take ordinary washcloths, wet them, wring out the excess water and put each one in an individual, resealable sandwich bag. Store several of these in the refrigerator or freezer to grab as you are going out the door. A wet washcloth held up to your face or draped along the back of your neck can keep you going for a while.
Keep Ice-Cold Drinks and Treats at the Ready
Consider freezing seedless grapes for a healthy frozen snack. Or use frozen berries in a blender with fruit juice, yogurt, or milk to create a smoothie. Flavor ice cold water with cucumbers, limes, or lemons (many find lightly flavoring water helps them drink more). Store pre-filled water bottles or pitchers in the fridge.
Swimming is one of the best exercises for MS because the water keeps your body temperature low. You may be able to gain access to a pool at a nearby community center or health club, or you might consider having one installed at your home, if possible. In addition to traditional pools, there are size-efficient options that are designed to provide added therapeutic benefits.
A cool bath or shower or simply running cold water over your wrists can help too.
A number of different products can help cool you down. You may even have some of these in your home already.
You can buy cold packs in a variety of shapes to keep in the refrigerator or freezer. When you’re hot, place one on your head, neck, arm, or leg.
If you’re crafty, you can also make one yourself: Sew a small amount of water-absorbing polymer crystals (used to keep plants moist) into a fabric strip or sack. Once closed up, soak the pack in water for up to 60 minutes until the crystals turn into a gel and then store it in the refrigerator.
You can try spritzing yourself with water using a clean bottle designed for misting plants. You can also buy pressurized bottles of water in different sizes designed specifically for spraying on the face (check your local drugstore).
If you store these water bottles in your refrigerator, they will be ready when you need to use them to cool down.
Misting fans can lower the temperature outdoors by more than 20 degrees. These systems spray mist that cools through evaporation so you can stay dry, while the air around you is cooled. This can be a great way to use a patio, deck, or pool area during hot weather. In fact, many restaurants use these systems.
Cooling Clothing and Accessories
Cooling scarves, pillowcases, neck and wrist wraps, and headbands can give you some relief from the heat. Polar Products has a nice selection you can browse through to buy or to use as inspiration if you want to adapt your own clothes.
Cooling vests are a popular way of cooling your body when you have MS. These vests can vary from simple designs that use ice packs to complex options that require batteries.
Some designs are made with special fabrics that prevent the body’s temperature from rising.
- Ice pack vests: These vests use simple, re-freezable ice packs that are put into internal compartments. The effect can usually keep you cool for a few hours. SteeleVest is one such example, and Silver Eagle Outfitters has vests that use evaporation to cool the body. You just need to add water.
- Evaporation/chemical vests: These vests use water or chemical reactions to absorb heat. Evaporation vests work best in low-humidity settings. Chemical vests do not lower your temperature as much as the ice pack style.
- Active cooling vests: These vests use motorized devices to keep you cool for a longer period of time. Some require both water and ice. These are the most effective at cooling the body but can be bulky. Veskimo Personal Cooling Systems are made for long-term cooling; this system uses an outlet or batteries along with water and ice to keep you cool.
A Word From Get Meds Info
Because heat is such a known trigger of MS symptoms, the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America (MSAA) has a program that distributes cooling devices to people in need. Be sure to contact them or another MS support group in your area if you need assistance finding or obtaining cooling solutions.