Heat sensitivity or Uhthoff’s phenomenon occurs in 60–80% of people with MS. Even as little as a ¼ to ½ degree of elevated core body temperature can trigger symptoms due to slowed or disrupted nerve conduction.1 Those affected must learn practical tips to manage heat sensitivity to avoid getting overheated due to factors like exercising or fever but also to be able to enjoy activities that take place in warmer environments.
What can cause a rise in body temperature?
- Infection or fever.
- Hot and humid weather.
- Excessive household heating.
- Fire-pits, fireplaces.
- Sauna or hot tub.
- Hot yoga.
- Hot shower or bath.
Can too much heat make MS worse?
No, but it sure feels like it! A rise in body temperature can cause a temporary flare of old MS symptoms, which depending on your symptoms, can be debilitating. It does not, however, cause more disease activity like demyelination or nerve damage.2
Everyone is different but here’s how heat sensitivity affects my MS symptoms:
- Eye pain.
- Blurry vision.
- Slurred speech.
- Difficulty finding the correct words.
- Trouble tracking and remembering conversations.
How long does a heat-induced flare last?
Symptoms usually go away when you cool off, but you can still struggle for days feeling like crap or just ‘off.’ Meanwhile, anything you may have planned gets side-lined. So the whole, ‘just cool off and you’ll be fine’ is true in theory but not in actuality.
Practical tips to manage heat sensitivity and still have a life:
Stay indoors in the air-conditioning or under a fan.
- Unfortunately, this is often a must in hot weather but I for one am sick of sitting by myself inside watching everyone else have fun. Brainstorm with friends to come up with things you can do to socialize together indoors.
Plan fun indoor events!
- A day at a museum, indoor craft show, or market.
- Host a pot-luck brunch or lunch. (Shared responsibilities, less tiring)
- Go to a movie.
- Organize a game night. (My favorite!)
Pre-plan outdoor activities in advance to avoid potential problems:
- Will there be a shade or water source to cool off?
- How far do you need to walk? Or, how much walking is involved?
- How many steps are there to get to where you are going?
- Is there seating or is your event standing-only?
- Is there seating in a cool area available?
- Can you bring a chair?
- Are your destination area and the bathrooms accessible?
- Will you be staying in one location or moving on to another?
- Will water be available to stay hydrated?
- Going to the beach? Is it accessible? Are there beach wheelchairs if needed?
Drink tons of water!
- Water helps to avoid dehydration and keeps the body cool. When heat activates sweat glands, these glands bring that water, along with the body’s salt, to the surface of the skin as sweat. Once on the surface, the water evaporates. Water evaporating from the skin cools the body.3
Eat fruit with a high water content to help you stay hydrated.
- For a list check out: Water Boosts Brain Power
Have an ice pop!
Use a mini portable hand fan.
Dress in light, breathable, loose layers.
Try a cooling product:
- Check out neck and wrist wraps or a bandana, hat, or vest. MSAA has a cooling program where you can apply for a cooling kit for free!
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