A major goal for those living with MS is to be an active participant in life throughout the year regardless of environmental temperature. There are many ways to stay healthy and active while being aware of your level of heat or cold sensitivity and taking precautions.

A great way to identify your particular symptoms and temperature tolerance is to track your response to various levels of temperature changes.  More often than not, MS symptoms will come on gradually.  When you are alert to the potential changes, you can identify little changes early and take measures to return your body temperature to normal. By doing this, you avoid more severe changes that can be frustrating and can also place you at risk. 

There are differing opinions among MS Specialists as to the severity of heat and cold sensitivity and the possibility of triggering a relapse or attack.  Although uncommon, there are documented reports of people experiencing a relapse of MS after prolonged exposure to hot or cold environments. It is reasonable to use caution and take steps not to add this unnecessary stress to your body or place yourself at risk.

By paying attention to your body temperature and adding a touch of creativity, you will be able to enjoy the summer and winter months safely!

 

PRECAUTIONS

  • Sun block is essential for those with MS anytime you are exposed to the sun!  Many of the medications used to treat the disease and the symptoms of MS can place you at risk for sun sensitivity leading to sunburns. 
  • Assess and track your personal level of heat or cold sensitivity and take precautions to avoid prolonged exposure.
  • Do not go into sauna’s, hot tubs or to the beach alone.  If symptoms arise, you may place yourself in danger. 
  • Use caution with going for walks when temperatures are hot or cold if you are sensitive. Be sure to take your mobile phone with you and let someone know your plans when going alone on outings if temperatures could impact you function.
  • It can take hours or longer to recover once your temperature increases or decreases to a point of causing significant symptoms. When you are running multiple errands and going in and out of stores or buildings, you are stressing your body with many frequent temperature changes.

 

GENERAL TIPS WITH HEAT OR COLD SENSITIVITY:

  • Exercise indoors when outdoor temperatures are extreme.  Whether going to an indoor gym or working out at home, staying active can make a big difference in maintaining your health and wellness during the extreme months.
  • Swimming pools are great for exercise and activity year round provided they are maintained at a temperature at or below 85of.   
  • Plan outdoor activities during more comfortable and neutral parts of the day rather than during times when outdoor temperatures are extreme. 
  • Cool or warm your car prior to entering during periods of temperature extremes.  It makes it much more comfortable to enter!
  • Many cars now offer remote starters or you can simply start the car and wait for it to cool/warm prior to entering.
  • Consider higher levels of window tinting on cars as well. This can make a significant difference in temperature changes.
  • Heated or cooling seats and heated steering wheels are available in some cars.  These additions make a major difference in staying comfortable and offer combined methods of cooling or warming the cars and you.
  • Plan your outings to minimize exposure.  Some people find that the frequent in and out exposure to high or low temperatures is draining.  Consider this – You walk across a large parking lot to your car and wait for it to cool down or warm up then you drive to the next location.  Just as you begin to recover, you arrive at the next stop then it is time to travel again. You repeat the cycle over and over again!  By the end of the day you may be exhausted just from the continuous temperature changes you experienced.
  • Have someone else drive and drop you off at the entrance to a location.  Outings to indoor malls, activity centers or restaurants can be more comfortable if you are not walking a long distance from the parking area to the entrance.  Why waste your precious energy and risk feeling bad from extreme temperature exposure unnecessarily? Use your energy to enjoy the outing!
  • Consider a handicap placard to keep on hand for use in parking during the summer and/or winter months when necessary.  This is a reasonable practice especially for those who experience heat or cold sensitivity.  Having a placard and parking in handicap areas when needed can save energy and reduce symptoms by allowing you to park and enter the buildings quickly. 
  • Plan for higher utility bills during the summer and winter months.  Cooling during the summer months and heating during the winter is critical not only for comfort but for maintaining normal function when temperature sensitivity is an issue.  The utility bills can have a big impact on your budget so plan ahead.  In some cases, these charges may be tax deductible – check with a tax consultant to see if you qualify and take advantage of this deduction. 
  • Be prepared for heat or cold emergencies. Having an electrical outage or air conditioner / heater break down can become a big problem for someone with temperature sensitivity.  By tracking your heat and cold tolerance and preparing ahead of time, you can be ready to act should you notice MS symptoms increasing. If necessary, call upon a friend or consider a hotel if the outage is going to be prolonged or you notice symptoms worsening despite cooling or warming efforts.
  • Minimize prolonged exposure to extreme temperatures. Although in theory this makes sense, for many this seems impractical especially when living in geographic areas that experience extremes in environmental temperatures.  Try to incorporate as many indoor activities as possible to reduce the amount of exposure to outdoor extremes when present.
  • Window tinting for homes can make a significant difference in the inside temperatures and of course utility bills.  There are a variety of window tinting and insulation film options and the cost may be more reasonable than you think – shop around.  Other window coverings can make a difference as well.  Consider blinds, cellular shades, special drapes and rubber weather sealing to block heat and cold in your home.
  • Cooling or warming sheets / blankets / pillows have become popular items in recent years.  Most of the marketing messages are based on individual testimonials rather than scientific research.  These are modeled or made similar to the designs of active wear clothing concepts. Check the ratings available and make sure there is a return policy should they not work for you.

 

WITH HEAT SENSITIVITY

  • Place fans close to your workout space and have plenty of ice water available to stay cool during workouts when heat is your challenge.  With a prescription from your physician, in many states you can save sales tax charges for purchases of exercise equipment, fans and other items based on your medical need for them. 
  • Take frequent breaks during exercise and outdoor activities.  This is a simple way to monitor your tolerance to the combination of heat and exercise/activity.  After 10 minutes of exercise, take a moment to access how you are feeling and drink ice water for a minute or two then resume activity. As you become proficient at monitoring your individual response, this breaking up of activity by rest and ice water may keep you from over heating or overdoing during workouts. 
  • Photo protective clothing is readily available and can make a major impact of temperature regulation.  These items provide moisture management by pulling the perspiration away from the body to assist with evaporation to cool the body. Many of these items also have the added benefit of reducing ultraviolet rays that can cause sunburns.  Some of these items can reduce up to 97% of these rays while keeping you cooler when outside during high sun exposure.
  • Precooling the body before exposure to heat.  Try placing your legs or body in cool water for up to 30 minutes before exercising when the environment is warm.  There are studies that show this precooling to be effective in maintaining lower temperatures or delaying the rise in body temperature during exercises.
  • Swimming pools are great for exercise and activity especially during summer months provided they are maintained at a cooler temperature at or below 85of.   
  • Drink ice water frequently when participating in activities that may increase your body heat.  It is important to stay hydrated during summer months to assist in maintaining a cooler body temperature (in addition to reducing bladder issues).  This can be accomplished with many icy beverages and if you are athletic and participating in intense activities, consider sports drinks.
  • Cooling devices (vests, wrist bands, scarves, etc.) are available and have shown through research to be effective in keeping the body temperatures cooler when outdoors during summer months.  Cooling vests are a little more work and may require placing ice packs or the vest itself in a freezer prior to use but are effective in cooling your body temperature when your environment is warm or hot. 
  • If you are sick with the flu or any other infection, check with your physician about medications you can take to reduce high fevers.
  • Drinking iced beverages throughout the day will assist in maintaining a cooler body temperature. This is one of the best methods to support your body temperature regulation during summer months!  Snacking on items such as popsicles will also help. Watch for the calories though – avoid heavy sugary items and minimize caffeine intake.
  • Use fans, cooling mist devices and personal cooling or devices when needed.  The use of these personal items can also assist in minimizing the need for cooling the entire house and keep the high utility bills from straining the budget.  This will also help maintain the comfort of family and friends who are uncomfortable with temperatures you need.
  • Avoid cooking large meals and use vents and ceiling fans in the kitchen during summer months.  Fans are a great investment for summer months and having them in the kitchen helps to minimize the heat produced from cooking.  Consider cooler meals that do not require long cooking times. 
  • Winter months are great times to cook the warm meals with longer cooking times.
  • Personal care appliances can make a difference in both cooling your body (personal fan) as well as prevent overheating.  When purchasing a hair blower/dryer, make sure it has a cool shot setting where you can change the air to cool during your hair drying.  Having a small fan in the bathroom for after showers and hair drying can make a difference in keeping your body cool. Many have found small hand held cooling fans with misters to be useful. 

 

WHEN YOU ARE SENSITIVE TO COLD

  • Minimize prolonged exposure to extremely low temperatures. Although in theory this makes sense, for many this seems impractical especially when living in geographic areas that experience extremes in environmental temperatures.  Try to incorporate as many indoor activities as possible to reduce the amount of exposure to outdoor extremes when present.
  • Plan outdoor activities during more comfortable and neutral parts of the day rather than during times when outdoor temperatures are extreme. 
  • Make sure to bundle up and layer with sweaters and vests as necessary when exposed to high temperatures during winter months.  There are many items available to assist with keeping warm such as heat warmers, insulated boots, gloves insulated with wool, thermal underwear or runner’s tights under clothing, winter headwear and scarves.
  • Exercise indoors.  Whether going to an indoor gym or working out at home, staying active can make a big difference in maintaining your health and wellness during the extreme months. 
  • Use caution with extremely low temperatures as well and monitor your body’s response to the cold.  If MS symptoms arise, move indoors to a warmer area.
  • Pre warming the body before exposure to cold. This is a great way to prepare for entering the frigid cold as well.  You can wear a jacket or vest while inside the house to warm your body before stepping out into the extreme cold.  Do not warm to the extent of bring on sweating response.
  • Drinking warm beverages throughout the day will assist in maintaining a warmer body temperature. This is one of the best methods to support your body temperature regulation!  Snacking on warm foods such hot apples in the winter will also help.  Watch for the calories though – avoid heavy sugary items and minimize caffeine intake.
  • Winter months are great times to cook the warm meals with longer cooking times.
  • A small heater for your personal space may be helpful.  This will also assist with keeping utility bills down since you may not need to warm the entire house to your comfort level.

 

CONCLUSION:

Both summer and winter months can be a source of frustration and create discomfort and fear when one is sensitive to the high and/or low temperatures. This is the case with many of those living with MS.  Knowing how your body reacts to changes in temperature and more importantly, knowing how to keep yourself cool or warm can make a huge impact!

Creativity, safety and planning ahead are the keys to success in remaining engaged and active all year long! 

 


 

** If you have tips on items you’ve used to remain cool in the heat, please share your experience so that we can all learn!