Around 60-80% of individuals living with M.S. experience heat intolerance, particularly during the warmer summer months. Simply explained, when the body’s temperature elevates nerve conduction is slowed or blocked causing a temporary worsening of symptoms. The effects are as unique as we are with each individual having their own threshold and response to heat and humidity. It is important to note, heat does not cause an exacerbation of the disease process. The effects are temporary with symptoms returning to their normal level as the body cools.
Let’s consider some ways to beat the heat this summer.
Plan and prepare to prevent heat related fatigue. When planning your daily activities, think about the weather forecast and plan to engage in indoor tasks during the heat of the day. Schedule rest or cool down breaks into your routine. Be mindful of where you are going. Does the venue have air conditioning, covered parking, accessibility?
Summer is a great time to eat light, fresh and cool. Stay hydrated with plenty of decaffeinated cool drinks. Serve meals that do not heat up the kitchen. Fresh salads, sandwiches or chilled soups are welcome delights on a hot summer night.
Does your dress fit the part? Light colored clothing made of breathable materials is ideal. Try sportswear with moisture wicking properties. Layer your clothes to be able to quickly adjust to changing temperatures. Moistened and refrigerated wrist bands, scarves, t-shirts, shorts or swim suits might be a nice addition to your summer wardrobe.
It’s better in the shade. Avoid direct sun light by wearing a vented hat, visor or carry an umbrella. Keep the blinds drawn or consider tinting the windows. Park in shaded areas, sit on covered porches, misting fans or hoses make summer porch time that must sweeter.
The use of wearable cooling products before, during or after activity can extend your ability to engage in your chosen task and lesson the effects of the heat. There are a variety of products from wrist bands and bandanas to ice packed or battery powered circulating vests.
To help meet the need for cooling devices, the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America (MSAA) offers a Cooling Program. Qualified individuals with MS can receive a cooling kit which includes a vest worn under clothing with a variety of accessories for the neck, wrists and ankles, or they can receive a standard cooling vest to be worn over clothing. More information and an application can be found on the MSAA website at www.msassociation.org/programs/cooling/. There is also information in the May 2012 Can Do MS webinar co-presented by Peter Damiri, Senior Director of Programs for MSAA.
In developing your summer cooling plan, utilize your resources. Talk to your health care team, vendors, local and national M.S. chapters. Evaluate cooling products and lifestyle changes for fit and feasibility. Taking action today will ensure you have charted the right course to sail through the dogs days and sultry nights of summer.