Showers and baths can help us to feel clean and refreshed. But for some people, showers are a dangerous experience. A number of multiple sclerosis (MS) symptoms can make taking showers or baths feel frightening or painful, including heat sensitivity, balance problems, muscle weakness, or sensory disturbances.
Heat affects each of us with MS in different ways. For me, it makes my legs feel weak and “jiggly” while it also makes me feel mentally and physically exhausted. In my experience, a soak in a warm bath is good for combatting spasticity, but it can be bad for mobility and mental alertness. If you are heat sensitive, here are some ways you can protect yourself in the bathroom.
Cool it down. After you start your shower with warm water and have had a chance to enjoy the water on your back, lower the temperature to a lukewarm level to prevent raising your core body temperature too much. If you soak in the tub, try drinking ice water to cool down and rinse off with a brief cold shower to lower your body temperature before getting out.
Keep it handheld. Installing a handheld shower head on a hose can be useful in a variety of ways. You can control where the water goes and thus where the heat goes. A handheld shower head can help to reduce overheating by limiting exposure to warm water.
Release the steam. You can consider leaving the bathroom door open to let the steam and heat disperse throughout the house. If you’ve ever walked into a bathroom while someone is in the shower, you know just how hot and humid the room can become.
Impaired balance and leg weakness
Install grab bars. One of the most important features of my shower are the carefully positioned grab bars. I use them for stability when I step in and out of the shower. I also use the grab bar on the wall whenever I turn around to change positions. Whenever I wash my hair, I also hold onto the bar to make sure that I don’t begin to topple over.
Use a shower chair. Sitting down while you shower can help to protect you from falling and make showering more enjoyable. Combine the shower chair with a handheld shower head and you’ve got more control over your bathing experience.
Not all shower chairs are equal. For stability, choose a shower chair that is labeled as “bariatric” and designed to be sturdier than most. If stepping over the edge of a tub is difficult, try a shower transfer chair upon which you can sit on and then lift your legs one at a time over the tub. Some shower transfer chairs are designed to slide, a feature which can be very helpful. In addition, a simple device called a “leg lifter” can be helpful if you have trouble moving your legs on your own.
Cover up. For some people with MS, water coming from the shower can feel like sharp knives slicing the skin. If this is you, try wearing a light t-shirt in the shower as you first get wet to reduce direct contact with the pelting water. Expose your skin only to soap down and use a large cup filled with water to slowly pour over yourself to rinse off.
Avoid slipping. If you have neuropathy in your feet or fear slipping in the shower, try non-slip water socks. These are designed to protect the feet, dry quickly, and reduce risk of falls.
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Lisa Emrich is a patient advocate, accomplished speaker, author of the award-winning blog Brass and Ivory: Life with MS and RA, and founder of the Carnival of MS Bloggers. Lisa uses her experience to educate patients, raise disease awareness, encourage self-advocacy, and support patient-centered research. Lisa frequently works with non-profit organizations and has brought the patient voice to health care conferences and meetings worldwide. Follow Lisa on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.