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Some like it hot, but I do not

By Mary Pettigrew

I’m sure many of you who are newly diagnosed with multiple sclerosis are curious, bothered, and frustrated as to how and why heat affects people with MS as much as it does. I’m also sure there are many of you who are tired of reading about this very topic over and over. I too have become exhausted from reading and talking about the subject, however, it continues to be relevant for so many of us and it’s important to keep this conversation going for a variety of reasons. We all need to prepare for the unexpected and to find the resources needed to stay cool and, most importantly, to remain healthy and safe.

I decided this would be a good time to distract myself and share some helpful tools and tips I’ve used to deal with the heat. As I sit with a cool rag on my neck, it’s barely taking the edge off from the heat here in Texas. It’s 7 p.m. and the temperature still reads 109 degrees (given the heat index due to high humidity). According to the forecast, it’s only going to get hotter and I’m not looking forward to that. Texas has its own power grid and although they (ERCOT) say they are on top of things to avoid power outages, I remain cautious and curious as to what the next few months will show. As of this afternoon, the news from the national website regarding power outages has reported more than 312,000 outages in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida.

Top tips and tools for staying cool: 
  • Cooling vests, shirts, hats, scarves, etc. are helpful. Sometimes they might feel too heavy or uncomfortable, so ask other people what they like, and look at the different kinds available through MS Focus. 
  • Save the ice packs and gel packs if they come with your MS meds. If you have a cooling vest or other products, keep the packs in the freezer and use them anywhere you desire. You don’t necessarily need to use them solely for cooling vests, scarves, and hats. I like to use them around my neck, on my forehead, my back, calves, and in my pillowcases (especially if menopause is a factor). Anywhere you need them.
  • Try cooling topicals such as Biofreeze, Vicks Vaporub, or other menthol-based cooling gels and roll-ons if you aren’t allergic to menthol or eucalyptus. These are a two-for-one win-win with these products as they both cool and can deter mosquitoes.
  • Keep a misting spray bottle on hand when you must go outside in the heat. Just fill it up with ice water and refill as needed.
  • Close the blinds and drapes in your home – especially during the hottest times of day when they face the sun.
  • Stay hydrated – This means water. I’m sure you all know this, but sometimes we don’t pay attention or realize when we’re on the verge of heat-related problems besides our MS.
  • Take care of your car’s cooling system – Running errands can be challenging when the barometer shoots up, so try to keep your car in a covered spot or at least try to cool your car down to a comfortable level before driving. Sometimes a windshield or dash cover can help.
  • Consider applying for a disabled placard – I have one and only use it when necessary (i.e., during inclement weather or when I’m having issues that could be problematic or unsafe).
  • Lastly, and this is my favorite tip, consider purchasing a portable air conditioning unit – I live in a small house, probably built in the 40s or 50s and has original air ducts. The last two winters were abnormally frigid and last summer was horrendously hot, so the ducts had expanded, cracked, and created attic leaks from condensation. I am not comfortable unless the temperature is between 67 and 71 degrees (especially at night). The cost to replace the ductwork was outrageous, so, long story short, my HVAC technician recommended I get a portable unit for my bedroom. I’m pleased to say I wasted no time and purchased a Hisense unit for my bedroom. It is aesthetically pleasing, and I’ve saved money on my electricity bills too. There are a variety of brands for portable units to choose from based on style, your budget, room or house size, and your needs. My cooling unit has been a life-saver for me, so I hope this might be of help to others too. If anyone is interested in knowing more about these units, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I’ll be happy to help. Stay cool.