Heat and humidity can make anyone feel uncomfortable, but for the 400,000 people living with multiple sclerosis (MS) in the United States, warmer weather can make life particularly difficult to manage.
“When it’s warm and sunny, that’s when I want to spend the most time outdoors,” said Wendy Booker, who has been living with MS for almost 20 years. “I enjoy gardening, walking and eating outside, but the heat is sometimes too much to bear, and I find it difficult to even get out the door.”
Symptoms of MS, including dizziness, blurry vision and fatigue, can be unpredictable and often flare up during warm weather. High temperatures and humidity can cause a temporary, slight elevation in body temperature, which impairs nerves and can potentially worsen symptoms.
“The negative effects of temperature and humidity are generally temporary, but they can make the symptoms of MS worse and make it difficult to accomplish everyday tasks or enjoy activities outside,” said Carrie Lyn Sammarco, DrNP, FNP-C, MSCN, nurse practitioner in the NYU Langone Medical Center Multiple Sclerosis Comprehensive Care Center.
If you or someone you care for is living with MS, what can you do to beat the heat?
1. Dress lightly. Clothing can make all the difference. Look for lightweight, open-weave fabrics that “breathe” by letting air flow in and out more easily. Also, protect yourself from the sun’s harsh rays by wearing a hat or other protective covering.
2. Hydrate. Drink plenty of cool fluids. Having a cold drink or summer treat, like an ice pop, can often provide temporary relief. “I often freeze a water bottle the night before participating in an outdoor activity so I know I’ll have a cool drink quickly available,” Booker said.
3. Stay indoors. It may seem obvious, but sometimes the best way to beat the heat is to avoid it altogether! Chill out inside an air-conditioned space, sit in front of a fan or head out to your local movie theater to see the latest flick.
4. Take a dip. “Exercising in a non-heated pool is a great way to stay both active and cool during warm months and something I often recommend to my patients living with MS,” Dr. Sammarco said.
5. Ask for help. The unpredictability of MS symptoms, especially in the heat, may mean you need to ask for help sometimes. Check out a new online resource, GatherMS.com, that provides links to existing, everyday services – from grocery delivery to free transportation. Booker, who serves as a spokesperson for GatherMS, uses the resource to help her accomplish daily tasks when the heat gets her down.
No matter how you choose to stay cool, talk to your doctor for the best advice on managing your MS year round, especially during the warmer months.
- Multiple Sclerosis International Federation. (2013). Atlas of MS 2013. Available at: http://www.msif.org/about-us/advocacy/atlas/.
- Neurology. Seasonal prevalence of MS disease activity. (201). Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2938966/
- National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Heat & Temperature Sensitivity. Available at: http://www.nationalmssociety.org/Living-Well-With-MS/Health-Wellness/Heat-Temperature-Sensitivity