A Hot Mess: Heat Sensitivity and MS
I am a hot mess. No, really, I am a hot, sweaty, gel-pack-laden mess. My AC kicked it three hours ago, three hours before Orange County hit a record 112 degrees Fahrenheit. Mother Nature is drunk.
And I am getting warmer.
Heat is kryptonite to anyone with multiple sclerosis (MS). Sensitivity to and intolerance of heat exacerbates our symptoms. MS causes nerves to lose their myelin sheath, making them more vulnerable to heat and temperature changes. Heat exposure can cause or heighten fatigue, numbness, blurry vision, tremor, confusion, imbalance, and weakness. This is a pseudo-exacerbation as symptoms typically dissipate once the body is cooled.
As my MS has progressed, so too has my threshold for heat. I am fairly certain I bypassed that threshold 30 degrees ago. As my cognition slows, so do my motor movements. My foot drop becomes more pronounced as I stumble into the kitchen for more gel packs.
I begin to grow fatigued and recall the symptoms associated with heat stroke. I drag my lethargic self into a cool shower. The relief is palpable albeit short-lived. Within an hour I find myself experiencing full-blown Uhthoff’s.
Uhthoff’s syndrome is when changes in body temperature worsen existing MS symptoms. This temporary phenomenon reverses itself once body temperature lowers. I was able to mitigate my exacerbation with a cool shower. Once out, however, the elements took their toll.
So, what do you do when fearing an unexpected emergency? You prepare in advance.
Frozen gel packs will help to lower your body temperature. Keep several in your freezer and use them simultaneously. Place them on your forehead, the nape of your neck, wrists, and your upper thighs. Be certain to place a towel beneath the ice pack to avoid direct skin contact.
I have found cooling towels to be incredibly helpful. Once submerged then removed from the iced water, they hold their cool temperature for up to six hours. Furthermore, they are reusable and come in a variety of sizes depending on your needs.
Something I have not tried (but hear amazing things about) are cooling vests. Known to cool your core temperature quickly, these vests are a necessity for anyone extremely prone to heat sensitivity. While efficient, they can be expensive. Do your due diligence when shopping for one. Some organizations, such as the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, offer discounts to those enduring financial hardships.
Staying hydrated is crucial to maintaining a leveled body temperature. Water is your best friend; drink up and often. Refrain from soda as it does not quench thirst. Alcohol has the potential to worsen things.
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of planning ahead. This is especially important in the summer months as our kryptonite is out in full force. Although it can be hard to miss out on summer fun, it is much harder to experience a heat-driven exacerbation. Plan your outings and social schedule accordingly. I head to the grocery store and do errands as early as possible. Similarly, I schedule appointments early in the day and not during a heat wave. In the event of an unexpected scorcher, I may cancel. Those who know me understand when these extenuating circumstances arise.
It has taken me quite some time to write this. My cognition is slow, and I have fallen asleep atop the keyboard more than once. I’m having a new air conditioning unit installed tomorrow morning. In the interim, I will do what I always do — stay grateful, optimistic, and fight.
Gel packs in place, a tall glass of ice water by my side with multiple fans blowing, I am Superman.
Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, Inc., and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.