Woman lays on an ice cube tray shaped floaty in a pool with ice cubes in it

Don’t Let Heat Beat You

Last updated: June 2022

The recent escalation of temperatures in my home state made me immediately think of the dog days of summer even though it was only May. If there were kryptonite capable of taking down my MS superpowers it would have to be, heat.

Before I had an official diagnosis, I noticed that using a hairdryer in the morning before work just zapped all my strength. I didn’t give it much thought at the time, because I was on a schedule to get to work. Instead, I just skipped this part of my routine and instead opted to travel to work with still-damp hair.

Heat sensitivity: An early MS symptom

The summer of my diagnosis was absolutely the worst, though. We went to visit friends in the south and while the men went to play golf, I went to a local state park for a walk in the woods. Note, that I said summer and south in the same sentence, which translates to high temperatures as well as excessive humidity. I left the airconditioned comfort of my car, anticipating a lovely afternoon in the woods. The further I went away from my car, the slower my pace became. As I heated up, my coordination began to fail and I found myself stumbling over tree roots and tripping on air. I recognized my strength was failing and began the torturous trek back to the parking lot.

What seemed like an eternity passed while each step I took became more and more difficult. I remember there being slight inclines that seemed like mountains to climb as I worked my way back to the safety of my car.

Numbness and fatigue

Once inside, I quickly started the car to find the relief of air conditioning because I recognized I was definitely overheated but I didn’t know what was exactly happening to my body. Fortunately, the car was in the parking gear and I didn’t lurch forward as the engine revved up. I had no control over my right foot or feeling, and it had inadvertently been on both the brake and the gas pedal. I sat with a sense of relief as I could feel the cool air passing over me inside the car, but it would take several more hours before my core temperature returned to normal and the feeling returned to my legs.

Understanding heat sensitivity

Just a few months later I was officially diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and I began to understand why the heat had affected me in such a dramatic fashion. This temporary or transient appearance of semi-disabling symptoms is officially called Uhtoff’s Phenomenon. Named after Wilhelm Uhtoff who in 1890 proved this heat-related medical problem with cases of optic neuritis. This common MS symptom is fortunately temporary and can often be avoided completely.

Tips for keeping cool

Keeping cool in the summer heat is critical for many of us, and there are ways to beat the heat. There are great articles here including, It's That Time of the Year: Staying Cool With MS or Keeping Cool With MS. You can find other information on MultipleSclerosis.net by using the search tool and enter the term 'cooling' in the search box.

We don't have to give up what we love

Being sensitive to heat doesn’t mean we have to give up drying our hair or taking short walks in the woods, we just have to be smart and use all the tools available to us to keep cool. While kryptonite as a weapon may be fictional, heat sensitivity is very real for most people with MS, but it can be beat.

Wishing you well,

Laura

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