I love the hot weather. All winter long, I dream of the days of summer, when the sun shines on my face, radiating heat onto my skin. But over the past year, I have noticed a significant change in my body’s ability to deal with the heat.
When I was a teenager, I spent my summers at Myrtle Beach in South Carolina. All day long, I’d lie in the sun, swim in the ocean and let the sun’s rays dry my skin and hair. I’d literally bake in the heat, and I loved it. I applied sunscreen often and liberally to protect my tender, white skin from burning. Little did I know that by the age of 37, I would no longer be worried about the sun’s affect on my skin. Instead, it’s the heat that sucks the life right out of me.
It’s a vicious cycle. I love hot weather, the pool and the beach. But I’ve come to the sad realization that heat causes my body to enter a state of exhaustion. That leads to fatigue lasting for days. And after days barely able to pull my body from bed, you got it – the depression kicks in.
I have always been a person on the go, never slowing down. Rest is boring to me; watching television makes me antsy; and the thought of taking a nap? Shudder. When I first felt the heat related fatigue often linked with MS, I thought it had to be all in my head. I had always loved the hot weather. I vacationed in hot climates all the time. Hiking in Hawaii for twelve hours straight had no effect on me back in 2005. An entire day on the beaches of Punta Cana had proven relaxing, not uncomfortable. Hot yoga was an incredible energy booster for me. What could have possibly happened to change my body’s clear love for above 90 degree temperatures? MS happened.
According to the National MS Society, many people diagnosed with multiple sclerosis see their symptoms reappear or get worse during hot or humid conditions. And it’s not just the weather that effects them. A fever, increased body heat from exercise and even hot showers can cause symptoms to reemerge. Experts say the reemergence can happen even with a quarter to a half a degree change in body temperature. The reason? Frayed nerve endings have a tougher time conducting electrical impulses as the body heats up. (Source: http://www.nationalmssociety.org/about-multiple-sclerosis/what-we-know-about-ms/treatments/exacerbations/heattemperature-sensitivity/index.aspx)
The good news? These heat-related symptoms are not permanent. They often go away when the body temperature cools. I have a girlfriend who also has MS. She takes what she calls, “An MS Shower”, when she starts to feel the effects of heat on her body. She turns the water as cold as possible and jumps in the shower.
I have to say, it works. Last summer, I was trying to save cash by cutting my own lawn. After the first couple trimmings, I realized the hour-long job in the heat was just too much for my body. The first time I cut the grass, I was left too exhausted to even get out of bed for two days. I felt like I had the flu, and the numbness in my left leg from my first MS attack came back. Eventually, I felt better. The second time I attempted to cut the grass, I felt the same effects from the heat. As soon as I was finished with the lawn, I took an “MS Shower”. It wasn’t easy, getting in at first. But after being under the icy cold water for a few seconds, it felt amazing. I could feel my body temperature decreasing, and I did not have any of the symptoms I had experienced before.
The National MS Society shares some other great tips on ow to beat the heat. Some are no-brainers (pardon the expression), like “Stay in an air-conditioned environment during periods of extreme heat and humidity.”. If it were only that easy! But who wants to be trapped in the house all day because it’s over 80 degrees outside? Your life doesn’t have to stop just because you have MS and it’s a long, hot summer. And you don’t have to move to Alaska to feel 100%. Check out these tips to make sure your body stays happy and healthy during warm weather.
And remember, life is too darn spectacular to ever give in to your disease. Treat it as you would your worst enemy – keep it close, knowing what feeds it and what fights it. And never give up on the fight. YOUR life, love and happiness are all worth it.