Strategies for Keeping Cool with MS

by Lisa Emrich Patient Advocate

Summer is my husband’s favorite season. He absolutely loves the heat. I personally enjoy springtime when the air is crisp and the plants are blooming.

For me, summer’s heat and humidity can wreak havoc with my MS symptoms. I am heat-sensitive so when the summer heat raises my core body temperature, it can cause a pseudoexacerbation or temporary worsening of MS symptoms. Even a tiny elevation in core body temperature of one-half degree, due to heat in the environment or infection in the body, can potentially slow down the conduction of nerve signals.

Keeping cool is the key to enjoying those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer.

Strategies for Keeping Cool"¨

Cover up:

  • Wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothes that cover more of your body, and protect your skin from the sun’s rays, to help keep cool in low humidity heat.

  • Choose loosely-woven natural fabrics (cotton, silk, linen), rather than polyester, rayon, or other artificial fibers which don’t “breathe”.

  • Wear light colored clothing to help reflect heat. Darker colors absorb the sun’s heat and stay warmer longer.

  • Articles of clothing designed to wick moisture from the body and dry quickly may be helpful in high humidity environments.

  • Sit in the shade and avoid strenuous activity during peak sunlight hours (10 am - 3 pm).

Add water:

  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and avoiding caffeine. A hydrated body is better able to regulate temperature. Try drinking at least 8 ounces of water every hour to stay hydrated in the heat.

  • Run cold water over your wrists for 10 seconds on each hand to help cool down.

  • Fill an inexpensive spray bottle with water and use it to mist yourself. In a breeze, water on the skin evaporates and helps to cool the body in a similar manner to perspiration.

  • Wrap a wet handkerchief, towel, or cloth around the back of the neck.

  • Take a cool bath or jump in the pool and go swimming.

Keep it frozen:

  • Drink iced beverages. Frozen beverages, such as “slurpees”, or popsicles can help provide temporary relief.

  • Freeze bottles of water and sip on the water as it melts throughout the day.

  • Hold ice cubes, ice packs, or anything frozen against the inside of the wrists, back of the neck, or top of the head to provide quick relief.

  • Snack on frozen bite-sized pieces of fruit, such as pineapple chunks, banana slices, blueberries, or grapes.

Take advantage of cooling vests and equipment:

  • Evaporative Cooling Vests are soaked in water to charge special polymer beads built into the garment. As the water evaporates over several hours, the vest provides surface cooling. Evaporative vests do not work as well in places with high humidity, but they are typically low cost and light weight.

  • Cold Pack Cooling Vests have pockets in which to place frozen gel packs that cool for up to 4 hours. They often look like a flak jacket, but can be worn under or over clothing, depending upon the design. I have one of these and often just grab a gel pack from the freezer to hold against my wrists for quick chilly relief.

  • Phase Change Cold Pack Cooling Vests utilize cold packs that contain phase change polymers. The phase change cold packs can be recharged in the freezer, refrigerator, or in ice water to provide cooling for up to 3 hours.

  • Active Cooling Vests typically incorporate a coolant, often ice water, that is circulated from a reservoir by a pump system through channels or tubes embedded in a vest. The system may contain a hood for the head. The temperature of the circulating coolant can often be adjusted. The system operates on batteries, or house or car current. This type of system will provide many hours of cooling before the ice or water need to be recharged.

Cooling Equipment Programs

The Multiple Sclerosis Association of America (MSAA) and the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation (MSF) each have cooling equipment distribution programs which provide select cooling equipment to eligible MS patients. Visit each organization’s website for more information.

For reviews, recommendations and links to resources regarding cooling equipment, visit the ActiveMSers:Staying Active with Multiple Sclerosis website.

Lisa Emrich
Meet Our Writer
Lisa Emrich

Living with multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid Arthritis, Lisa Emrich is an award-winning, passionate patient advocate, health writer, classical musician, and backroad cyclist. Her stories inspire others to live better and stay active. Lisa is author of the blog Brass and Ivory: Life with MS and RA and founder of the Carnival of MS Bloggers. Lisa frequently works with organizations in support of better policies, patient-centered research, and research funding. Lisa serves on HealthCentral’s Health Advocates Advisory Board, and is a Social Ambassador for the MSHealthCentral Facebook page.