Summer is in full swing, and along with it comes backyard barbecues, outdoor recreation, and long sunny days.
The joys of summer are many, but for some people with multiple sclerosis, summer’s heat and humidity can make it even more difficult for already damaged nerve fibers to transmit electrical impulses, resulting in an exaggeration of symptoms, which may include fatigue, dizziness, and extreme weakness.
This kind of temporary flare-up of symptoms is called a pseudo exacerbation because, although the symptoms are uncomfortable and frightening, there is no true neurological damage taking place.
We all know the basic health rules that come with summer — apply sunblock, wear sunglasses, drink plenty of fluids, and limit sun exposure. But as M.S. patients, we also have to keep body temperature in mind by staying tuned in to the cues our bodies send us, and heading trouble off at the pass whenever possible.
If you are one of those affected by heat and humidity, there are steps you can take to stay cool.
While enjoying the great outdoors:
• Avoid the sun during the hottest part of the day, from 11:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
• Some sunshine is good for you, so enjoy the sun for a short time if you can take it, but choose shade over direct sunlight for the long haul.
• Wear lightweight breathable clothing made from natural fabrics, like cotton.
• Wear a brimmed hat to shade your face from the sun.
• Stay refreshed with a cool drink.
When you begin to feel symptoms of overheating (weakness, fatigue, dizziness):
• Don’t give in to the temptation to ignore them.
• Try to get to a cool spot like an air-conditioned building, or one with fans, or plenty of cross-ventilation.
• Take a dip in cool water.
• Refresh yourself with a spray mist bottle.
• Take cool shower, or better yet — treat yourself to a long, cool bath.
MS patients should also be wary of hot tubs, hot baths, hot showers, saunas, and strenuous exercise in hot weather. Fortunately, symptoms from overheating generally subside fairly quickly after a short cool down period.
There are many products made specifically for the purpose of keeping people with multiple sclerosis cool, including cooling vests, wrist bands, and neck collars, and several programs that assist M.S. patients who qualify. These can be used either as preventative measures or ways to recover from overheating.
Cooling Products for M.S. Patients:
Multiple Sclerosis Foundation: Cooling Program
Multiple Sclerosis Association of America: Cooling Equipment Distribution Program
National Multiple Sclerosis Society: Cooling Product Information and Assistance
Managing multiple sclerosis requires a mind/body connection, a willingness of the mind to not only hear what the body is saying, but to act on that information. We owe it to ourselves to take control over the things we can change. Those of us with M.S. don’t have to give up on summer… and we’ve always got those beautiful summer nights.
More on keeping cool this summer: 10 Summer Secrets to Keep You Cool