Beat the Heat and Chill!
Polar Products, the company that makes a full line of various cooling vest products, wrist and ankle wraps, neck coolers and more, was one of the exhibitors at the recent Consortium for MS Centers 2016 annual meeting and I had time to talk with the company’s owner, William Graessle, owner and CEO, about their product line. Bill is one of those guys who will talk with anyone about his product because he has a real passion for being a good corporate citizen and has become a friend of the MS community. His company sells the large majority of their products to commercial and government customers such a road construction and airport workers who spend long hours in the heat. The market to help people with multiple sclerosis and other diseases that make the affected person sensitive to the heat is much smaller, but for him it is much more satisfying.
As we talked, he proudly showed me their most recent addition to their product line – it is a very small zip-up cooling vest for children. Bill pointed out that there isn’t a large MS pediatric population but there are several rare diseases that keep children unable to cool on their own or they are on a drug that creates a problem with the body being able to regulate temperatures. His is one of the few that make a serious vest for little people with this dangerous and often life-threatening problem.
We had the chance to talk over anything that might be new in the cooling line for those of us with MS who are heat sensitive and I was particularly interested to learn more about their ‘home and away’ cooling technology. We all know the common complaint about ice packs that have to be frozen before using in a cooling vest – they might last just a few brief hours (2-4 hours) when taken out into the heat and they just don’t stay cool long enough to get us through a full day. Polar Products is now offering phase change cooling packs, named Cool58©. These packs freeze at 58 degrees Fahrenheit, and can be quickly frozen by simply placing the pack in ice water. The Cool58© packs will remain frozen for 1.5-3 hours. The Cool58© is the ‘away’ part of cooling – it takes very little time to freeze the packs and could be accomplished in a large cup of ice or by dropping it into a ice filled cooler. This quick recharge of the cooling pack means we can be exposed to heat for much longer periods of time.
Polar Products has a brochure specific to cooling products and MS and it cites the problems with overheating and by maintaining a better body temperature we may improve ‘weakness, spasticity, tremor, incoordination, walking difficulties, fatigue, visual difficulties, speech disorders, cognitive difficulty, urinary difficulties and sexual difficulties,” according to Dr. Allen C., Bowling. In other words, it you are heat sensitive, any and/or all of your MS problems may be more noticeable and cause problems if you are overheated. It is also worth noting that these problems almost always get better once the person cools down, so the key point is to not allow yourself to get hot in the first place.
Bill and I also talked about a common problem people make when buying cooling equipment – they get items that are not appropriate for their weather. We both reside in Ohio, and high humidity is a common part of our summer weather. Cooling products that work by evaporation – the ones that you soak in water and then drape on your body – do not work in humidity; the evaporation process just does not work unless you use it in a very dry place such as Arizona or Southern California. I purchased a pricey vest a few years ago that requires it to be soaked in water and then worn, and in our humidity it just felt like I was in a very heavy wet t-shirt contest with no prizes.
The downside of these cooling clothing items is they costs money, and a good vest can be in the range of $175 or so. Fortunately Polar Products works with the MS Cooling program of the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America and the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation. Both of these advocacy organizations have cooling product distribution plans to help people who have limited resources and might not be able to buy it on their own. With both of these programs it is important to plan ahead and request the cooling items BEFORE the temperatures rise – you want to be prepared.
Polar Products has a section on their website dedicated to multiple sclerosis, and it includes information on why overheating causes problems, what to do to stop this and also has links to the assistance programs from MSAA and MSF. They have been supporting the MS community with education resources on heat sensitivity for over 30 years.
If you don’t have the special equipment and we’re facing the rising temperatures of summer, don’t despair. There are still ways to keep cool. I offered tips in Keeping Cool with MS. Bill and I talked about these as well and we both agree one of the fastest ways we can cool down is to place our wrists under cool running water – our circulatory works like a radiator and by cooling our blood at this pulse point we can effectively chill our entire body.
However you do it, I hope you find ways to stay cool and enjoy the long summer days without your MS and the heat causing problems.
Wishing you well,