Exclusive Content

8 Ways to Overcome the Challenges of Chilly Temps

By Gay Falkowski

If you’re like most people with MS, you spend hot summer days trying to keep cool and avoid symptom flares. But if you’re sensitive to cold temps, too, wintry weather brings a new set of challenges, including:
 
* Tightness and stiffness in muscles and joints
* Rigid movements
* Pain with increased spasms and spasticity
 
Like heat-related symptoms, cold-weather symptoms usually subside before too long. No one knows for certain why MS creates sensitivity to cold temperatures. Whatever the reason, for some people, keeping warm is just as important (or perhaps more important) than keeping cool. Here are eight ways to cope with cold weather and the hazards it brings:
 
  1. Find your temperature comfort zone. Not too hot or too cold, your ideal temperature is the one that feels just right to you. Do your best to maintain this ideal temperature in your body and environment, and your weather-related symptoms will gradually subside. Stay aware of your comfort zone and make adjustments as soon as you begin feeling too cold or too warm.
 
  1. Use caution when warming up with electric heating pads and hot water bottles. MS sometimes changes the way you experience hot and cold on the skin. Make sure your heating pad or hot water bottle is not too hot and is not applied directly on the skin or you could wind up with blisters and burns.
 
  1. Wear layers of clothing for easier temperature regulation. When you layer long-sleeve shirts with sweaters and lightweight jackets you can more easily adapt to fluctuating temperatures by removing or adding layers. You lose heat most quickly through extremities, so wearing hats, thick socks and boots, and lined gloves helps keep the lid on your body warmth.
 
  1. Don’t take long, hot showers. Though it’s a tempting way to warm up, hot water can dry your skin considerably. Also, very hot showers can overheat the body. Keep showers short and lukewarm to help maintain healthy, well-moisturized skin as well as a safe body temperature.
 
  1. Moisturize to keep skin from feeling burned from outdoor cold temps. When applied directly after showering to damp skin, creams and ointments lock in moisture while it’s still there. Avoid alcohol-based lotions or gels, as they deplete skin moisture. Petrolatum-based products provide the best protection. Also, using unscented, moisturizing soaps during the winter helps minimize skin irritation.
 
  1. Exercise. Moving your body warms it up and helps relieve stiffness. Exercise need not be extreme to be effective. In fact, simple stretching or yoga is often recommended for people experiencing spasms and other muscular discomfort. Always check with your doctor before beginning any new exercise routine.
 
  1. Contact your healthcare team and share your problems. Sometimes medication is the best solution for cold weather symptoms that you can’t tame with home remedies. Your doctor may increase the dosage of a current medication or suggest a new one. The changes are usually temporary.
 
  1. Don’t drink alcohol — or at least limit your intake. Alcohol can make you think you’re warm. But here’s what actually happens: When you drink, it dilates the peripheral blood vessels near your skin. As a result, more blood and heat flows to these vessels. That takes blood and heat away from the core of your body. So while it feels like you’re warm because your skin is warm, your vital organs aren’t as warm as you might think they are. If you go out in the cold after drinking, you can lose peripheral heat very easily and quickly. And that can be dangerous.