Lowering the thermostat
The faster you decrease your body temperature, the faster you reduce the accompanying symptoms. Frohman says the body has numerous points that act as heat conductors, so it doesn’t matter which one you choose to cool—targeting your wrists and neck, for instance, is no less effective than focusing on your core. Here’s a look at the most efficient ways to lower your body temperature, from the tried-and-true to the novel.
■ TIMING IS EVERYTHING
Lint loves to garden, but knows that even in the relatively cool Wisconsin summers, she can fight off fatigue longer if she does her planting and weeding closer to dawn and dusk. If she works in her garden from 6 to 7 a.m., she’ll have enough energy left over to do another half-hour stint shortly before the sun goes down. And if she focuses on beds that are in the shade, she can last twice as long as she would tending a sunny plot. If she does get overly fatigued, she lies in shade on the cool soil until she can safely move again. “And I make sure my husband is home to help me inside if I need it,” she says, because balance issues are her primary heat-related symptom.
Lint doesn’t always follow her own rules perfectly, though, and sometimes finds herself exposed to the noontime sun. She’s a big baseball fan and likes to attend games but makes sure to take her wheelchair in case the heat leaves her overly fatigued. For activities where restricting others’ views isn’t an issue, umbrellas can provide portable shade—and some even have UVB and UVA protection to block the sun’s rays.
■ YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT—AND DRINK
“My No. 1 weapon to deal with the heat is decaffeinated, ice-blended coffee beverages; nothing makes a bigger difference in cooling me down,” says Michael Gerber of Los Angeles. Gerber, who has secondary-progressive MS and has used a wheelchair for almost four years, says high temperatures cause overall weakness and an inability to lift his arms, but Frappuccinos and similar drinks “reduce my symptoms almost instantaneously. All my friends know to call before they come over and ask, ‘Does Michael need a drink?’ ”
Cold beverages are a great way to cool down, says Ashley Uyeshiro, OTD, OTR/L, assistant professor of clinical occupational therapy at the University of Southern California. Gerber is smart to choose decaf, she says, because caffeine and alcohol are diuretics that can reduce sweating. They also decrease the overall water content in your body, impeding your body’s ability to regulate its temperature. Ideally, ice water is the best coolant, Uyeshiro says, because it’s free of non-nutritional additives like sweeteners, and doesn’t require energy expenditure to digest. Sports drinks aren’t really necessary, because, although they replace electrolytes you may lose from sweating, everyone but hardcore athletes can get those lost nutrients from food, she adds.
Uyeshiro says chilled foods like yogurt, hummus, sherbet, juicy fruits, and frozen grapes or blueberries help you feel cooler but generally don’t drop your body temperature as quickly as water. She recommends eating smaller, more frequent meals rather than a heavy meal that makes you feel sluggish.
■ CHILL OUT
Air conditioning is often the most powerful—and expensive—way to make summer heat bearable for people with MS. If you can’t afford it, check with your utility company, Uyeshiro says; some offer rate discounts if you have a note from your doctor. In addition, air conditioning units or systems may be covered under your health insurance or could be deductible on your taxes, so check with your insurer and accountant.
In the workplace, you can ask for an office with an individual thermostat, or for a fan or air conditioner at your workstation, according to the Job Accommodation Network. You can also ask your employer for flexible scheduling or the ability to work from home on particularly hot days, especially if you have a long commute.
To avoid stifling cars, consider installing a remote starting system that will also activate your vehicle’s air conditioning. Kits are available for as low as $50 at electronics or auto accessories stores or websites. Or go the low-tech way and have a friend or family member start and precool your car.
■ THE WATER’S FINE
Handheld spray misting bottles—some come with built-in fans—are a quick way to simulate sweat’s cooling effect on your body. Keep them in the refrigerator for extra impact.
Simply putting hands or feet under a cold faucet also is an effective way to cool off quickly, Uyeshiro says. Frohman suggests packing a cooler with ice water and rags and applying the rags to your arms and legs if you anticipate being out in the sun for a long period of time.
Whichever method or device you use to keep your cool during sweltering summer days, one thing is key: Know your limits. “I’m a Type A person, so I tend to overdo things,” Lint says. “But I’ve learned to slow down when the temperature goes up.”
Vicky Uhland is a freelance writer and editor in Lafayette, Colo.
Need help paying for A/C or other heat-related assistance? Call the National MS Society at 1-800-344-4867 for information and resources. And read “Blowing hot and cold” for more information on assistance with air conditioning costs.
What’s your favorite strategy for keeping cool? Start or join a discussion at MSconnection.org.