Symptom Management

Summertime Survival Strategies

By MSF Staff and reviewed by the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation Medical Advisory Board

Heat can have a detrimental effect on people with MS. This is because the efficiency of MS-damaged nerve cells decreases as the core temperature of the body rises. New symptoms or an exacerbation of current symptoms can occur during this season if precautions aren't taken.

The good news is that symptom flare-ups because of increased body temperature are, for the most part, temporary, and generally improve or disappear as soon as the heat is alleviated. If you are aware of these seasonal hazards and plan accordingly, your chances of experiencing a heat-induced exacerbation can be minimized or even eliminated.

Heat and Hydration:

Avoid getting overheated and dehydrated by making water your beverage of choice. Sugared drinks should be avoided. They require water for digestion that could be used for cooling. Coffee, tea, cola, and alcohol are diuretics, and can actually cause dehydration. Skip hot, heavy meals, especially if you are planning to venture outside.

Wear lightweight, loose clothing and a hat if you foresee being in direct sunlight. Mowing the lawn or weeding the garden? Take a cool shower in your bathing suit. Then, in your wet suit, go outside and work. When your suit dries, come back in for another shower. This is a superb strategy to avoid overheating. Be sure to steer clear of all things electrical, should you decide to incorporate this plan. Talk to your doctor regarding your medications to be aware of any adverse reactions that might be induced by exposure to direct sunlight.

Apply cool, wet cloths frequently to your skin. This will help dissipate body heat. It can be especially beneficial for those with impaired perspiration. Keep your feet in your children's swimming pool or a bucket of water. Put your hair up, or better yet, keep it wet.

Many of the medications used for treating MS come packaged with ice packs. Take them outside with you and keep them on your wrists, neck or head. You may have noticed that cooling major arteries is most effective. Cooling vests and cooling neck rings can also do the trick. Even a simple bag of ice cubes works well.

Cool from the inside out. Nibble on frozen grapes or strawberries sheltered beneath a shady tree. Enjoy an ice cream, frozen yogurt or Popsicle while taking a leisurely evening stroll.

When You're Hot, You're Hot:

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, overheating may occur. If this happens, stop what you are doing immediately and move to a cooler place. Sip ice water. Remove shoes and socks. Remove any restrictive clothing. Get into a cool bath or simply hang your head beneath a faucet.

Most importantly, never ignore symptoms of overheating. Stay calm. Do not panic. Remember to breathe. The deeper the better. Should you feel very hot or experience a rubbery feeling in your legs, arms or hands, blurred or double vision, numbness, tingling, or fatigue, call your doctor.

Ten Tips for Keeping Cool:

  • Talk to your doctor regarding your medications and any potential for adverse reactions to direct sunlight
  • Stay inside between 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. whenever possible.
  • Try a cool shower in your bathing suit before venturing outside.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Use ice packs, cooling vests, or even chilled soda cans. Apply to major arteries for a rapid cool-down.
  • Freeze grapes and strawberries for a cool snack.
  • Dress in light, loose, comfortable clothing.
  • Keep your feet in a kiddie pool or bucket of water.
  • Make a splash - swim, float or sit in the pool.
  • Never ignore symptoms of overheating. Stay calm, breathe deeply and contact your doctor.

(Last reviewed 4/2015)