Multiple sclerosis makes it tough to deal with the heat of the dog days

How I cope with summer's traditionally hottest period (a wheelchair fan helps)

Benjamin Hofmeister avatar

by Benjamin Hofmeister |

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I like to look up.

No, I’m not referring to my disposition, although I do consider it to be an improvement over what it once was. I’m actually pretty sunny, if you happen to think of “sunny” as burning, harsh, and damaging when you’re exposed to it.

What I actually meant was that I like looking up at the sky, the night sky in particular.

I have a telescope, which I really need to use more. It can be difficult to use from a wheelchair and with hands and eyes affected by multiple sclerosis (MS), but I know I could find a way. I also have a star finder and use Google Sky maps, but I’m not even an amateur astronomer. I’m just a guy who knows a handful of the most recognizable constellations.

One that I recognize is Canis Major, the great dog. It’s easy to find, both because of its proximity to the constellation Orion and because it contains the brightest star, Sirius. Since July 3 and until tomorrow, Aug. 11, Sirius, the Dog Star, has appeared to rise and set with the sun. That’s why these dates are known as the “dog days of summer” in the Northern Hemisphere.

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Coping with the dog days

Before I learned all that, I assumed the name had something to do with actual dogs, and I don’t think I’m the only one. On what feels like the hottest days of the year, images of dogs lying around in the shade panting are easy to conjure. With the effects that heat has on those of us with multiple sclerosis, I sympathize with the dogs.

Like a dog, I too have become something of an expert on finding shade. If there’s none provided by nature or structures we humans create, I bring my own via a small umbrella clipped to my wheelchair. If there’s no breeze, I have a small fan that’s also clipped to my chair and aimed at the back of my neck. I may not be able to splay out in a cool, damp spot on the ground like a dog, but I have cooling clothing, wraps, and more that help some.

In Alabama, where I live, the high humidity turns evaporative and frozen cooling products into a warm, damp mass in short order. A hot, wet towel is nice before a shave, but unbelievably unpleasant at a ballpark. I’m interested in trying one of the phase change cooling products on the market since they’re supposed to be a dry cool and recharge quickly. When I do, I’ll be sure to share my thoughts. (If you’ve used one, please share your experience with it in the comments below.)

The reality is that I don’t venture out as much during the dog days. MS has forced me into a kind of reverse hibernation (minus the extra sleep and weight loss) during this time frame. Until autumn, I’ll spend the majority of my days indoors in the air conditioning. It’s fitting that today, the day before the dog days end, is also National Lazy Day, because I intend to honor it properly.

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, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.


Trish Nafotz avatar

Trish Nafotz

Thanks. From a fellow estivator (along with hedgehogs and others who can't take the heat). Haven't been outside in 8 weeks, but who's counting?

Benjamin Hofmeister avatar

Benjamin Hofmeister

Thanks Trish! I just learned a new word.

(Where were you a week ago when I needed a word for the opposite of hibernation??!!) 😆

Cheryl Lynn avatar

Cheryl Lynn

The heat is always a problem. You might want to try Frogg Toggs. They are considered a sport towel. I found them several years ago, but you can now get them on Amazon(what can't you get?) Soak them in water, keep them stored in the container they come in and re-wet them as needed. They do not drip and they retain the moisture. For me, they are a lifesaver, especially at night, over my forehead and eyes. while laying on my back. Since they are made for general purposes, they don't cost a fortune. You can wash them and reuse them forever. Good luck.

Benjamin Hofmeister avatar

Benjamin Hofmeister

Thanks Cheryl! I have a couple Frogg Toggs and used them in the deserts of the US, Afghanistan, and Iraq. They worked great in a hot, dry environment, but when I tried them in a hot, humid one, they never dried. Instead they became a warm wet wrap on your neck. Bleah!

On the other hand, they work well at the beach because of the constant breeze, I think.


Catherine Helm avatar

Catherine Helm

Ben, in our town in CT there used to be a Dog Days of Summer fair each August run by the dearest sweetest Vet. It had a fundraising element, of course, but like you I assumed it was just about dogs. We have loved many a lab in our family. Thank you for educating me! You Rock!

Benjamin Hofmeister avatar

Benjamin Hofmeister

Thanks for the comment Catherine! I'll probably continue to associate it with dogs. It's become a phrase in common usage as far as I'm concerned. We still have dogs, (2 standard poodles), but I seem to be collecting cats. I didn’t intend to be the neighborhood crazy cat person, but I hit my late 40s and cats just started showing up, so I guess it was meant to be.



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