Mercury Rising: Heat and MS
My favorite season is fall, which is almost tied with winter, then spring, and finally, summer. I love fall for being the beginning of the holiday season as well as for the change in temperature. Although, since moving to Southern California, it seems to move in the opposite direction of my liking.
This seasonal pecking order used to look quite different, almost the antithesis of what it is now. I began swimming as an infant and spent my youth sailing or enjoying the beach with friends. My first car was a used Rabbit Cabriolet (thank you, waitressing), and I felt best when the sun shone bright and warm. I attended UC Irvine, loving the sunshiny days as much as the academic challenge, and ultimately I became what I swore I never would: a permanent resident. After returning home to my beloved Marin County, I met and married a man who lived in, of all places, Southern California. I relished in the warm summer days, cruising my convertible beachside down the Pacific Coast Highway, returning home a little tousled and sun-kissed.
My, how things have changed, and not of my own choosing.
Let me preface that I love the concept of warm, sunny days. They just do not like me in return, and if you have multiple sclerosis, you probably share that sentiment. After experiencing heat stroke following a county fair, I understood that prolonged heat exposure was my kryptonite. My legs lost feeling and strength as my speech and motor movements rapidly declined. This is Uhthoff’s syndrome, an exacerbation of neurological symptoms in those with MS when the body becomes overheated.
Uhthoff’s is real and it is dangerous. I have learned several coping mechanisms to manage body temperature since my frightening experience, as I live in mercury rising.
It is imperative to keep your living space as temperate as possible, using air conditioning and fans. I have a medical baseline, meaning my electric company offers 25 therms of gas along with 500 kilowatts of electricity at a discounted price, above which it rebounds to the normal rate. The medical baseline program is available to those with conditions that worsen due to excessive exposure to heat or cold. Look into a synonymous program with your electric company.
Inevitably, we find ourselves in the heat, be it for work, appointments, errands, or just the passageway between two points. I have found cooling cloths to come in handy. After a quick soak and a snap, these towels stay cold for four to six hours. I have several and always take one with me when I travel, be it by car or plane. I have found them to come in handy at the most opportune times. Cooling vests are another effective way to cool your core, as it is when our core overheats that neurological functions diminish. It is essential to be mindful of any exacerbation and reverse things as soon as possible. This said, prevention is the best medicine.
I respect the syndrome but had a difficult time acclimating. I dread the season I used to find fun, adventurous, and alluring, instead opting for the cool and controlled climate in my home. The fallout from the day spent at the county fair cured me of any curiosity I had about tempting fate, but it is hard to miss outdoor activities I would otherwise love. Therefore, it is vital to create our own. I welcome the day early in an effort to be productive before the heat, and when possible, relish in a beautiful beach sunset. I sit outside with the birds singing their morning song and enjoy outdoor dinners on the patio with friends and family. I have created a new reality that is equally fulfilling, not because I wanted to but because happiness and fulfillment are choices, and I chose joy.
Life with MS is a constant juggling act; there is a myriad of variables of which to stay mindful. Heat exposure, specifically Uhthoff’s syndrome, is another one of those variables, and only we can set ourselves up for success. I have come to find that the summer within far outshines anything I could possibly experience in the confines of one season.
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