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11 August 2021

Some like it hot – keeping cool with MS

Hot weather can exacerbate the symptoms of multiple sclerosis. Karen, who is following the OMS Program, shares her tips for keeping cool with MS.

When once I would have longed for steamy, summer days; now I dread them. Should the thermometer creep even a few degrees over 21 Celsius (70 Fahrenheit), I find myself behaving like a swooning Victorian lady whose corset is too tight. I am fit for nothing but lying on the sofa. My energy levels sink to an abysmal low; my brain refuses to function and my limbs become leaden.

How heat can affect people with MS

Since most people with MS will suffer on hot days, we need to know what causes this temporary worsening of symptoms and what we can do to alleviate the discomfort.  MS causes damage to our nervous system – most particularly the myelin sheath, whose job it is to aid in the speedy transmission of electrical impulses. Heat has the tendency to slow this process, which results in an often sudden, though temporary, worsening of our symptoms.

Attempting to convey this information to others is not so easy. I have tried numerous analogies, but the one I think that can work best is to ask the person to think of their smart phone. If you leave it out in the sun on a hot day, or even an overheated room, it will simply stop working. We are rather more complex electrical equipment, but the effects are the same.

Keeping cool

There are many ways to keep cool, but here is my top five:

  • Drink plenty fluids. Cold drinks help lower the body’s core temperature. Water is the best option and you can add frozen fruits for a splash of colour and a little flavour.
  • Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun. Avoid the hottest part of the day and, if you are outside, find a shady spot. Personally, I’m with the Spanish in thinking this is the perfect time for a little nap.
  • Dress appropriately: hats, loose cotton clothing, scarves dipped in cold water and tied around the neck/wrists work well for me. For those living in very hot climates, special cooling vests would be a good investment.
  • Wet! Wet! Wet! Water is our greatest asset on hot days, since it absorbs heat from the skin and cools us down. Take cool or tepid showers; go for a dip in the sea or pool and when you wash your hair, let it dry naturally. Wet hair on the scalp is the best air conditioning. 
  • Let people know that heat affects you. Do not feel embarrassed to ask for windows/doors to be opened or fans employed. There are bound to be a few other people who appreciate the cooler temperatures too.

Turning it to your advantage

Though the traditional two weeks basking on the beach may not be the sensible option for us anymore, we can take advantage of travelling during off-peak times when prices and temperatures are lower. Or perhaps we might like to look at less obvious destinations: Scandinavia, the UK or northern Europe. As the world is opening up again, heading to a quieter corner of it seems like the sensible thing to do. Me? I’m off to the Highlands of Scotland where the chances of any adverse side effects from high temperatures is probably nil.