Heat and MS – Surviving the Summer

By Judy McKeown, RN (MS Resource Nurse)

Sensitivity to heat is a recognized symptom of Multiple Sclerosis (MS).External and internal increases in body temperature alike can cause either a block or the slowing down of messages moving along a nerve. This can temporarily cause the symptoms of MS to become worse. Elevating body temperature, even by ½°C, is enough to have a dramatic effect.

Symptoms usually settle again when the nerve returns to its normal temperature by resting or cooling. Internal causes of increased body temperature include fever and infection, having a very hot drink, and menstruation. External causes include hot weather and hot showers or baths. Heat sensitivity is also closely related to fatigue.

This article presents several tips to survive the summer by avoiding increases in body temperature.

Food and Fluid Intake

  • Keep up liquid intake to help the body cool. Carry a water bottle whenever you leave home.
  • Aim for at least an extra couple of large glasses of cool fluid a day. This helps restore body fluids lost by sweating and will help the fatigue that comes from heat. If you have problems with your bladder, just take sips of water at a time, say 2-3 mouthfuls. Even sucking on an ice cube can help.
  • Drinks with caffeine such as coffee and colas increase the metabolic heat in the body and therefore should be avoided.
  • Eat small meals and more often. The larger the meal, the more metabolic heat your body creates breaking down the food. Avoid foods high in protein as they also increase metabolic heat.
  • Try chrysanthemum tea, which is reputed to be a cooling herb which clears the head.


  • Wear a hat with a wide brim when out in the sun.
  • Carry a small handheld portable fan when on outings.
  • Wear a wet bandana around the neck.
  • Keep a face flannel in a plastic bag in the fridge or freezer and place between your back and the car seat; this is a great way of staying cool while on the move.
  • Use cotton wherever possible for trousers, skirts, shirts, tops, etc.
  • T-shirts are cool, easy to put on and off if you buy a slightly bigger size; they also absorb sweat, thereby keeping you cool.
  • Light colours are best, they reflect the sunlight and stop you from heating up.
  • Wear cotton underwear, especially if you sit a lot and if possible wear knee highs rather than pantyhose.
  • Men should avoid nylon socks; cotton is much cooler.
  • Choose light, open shoes or sandals.
  • Wear cotton nightwear. Lots of nightwear come in synthetics which will make you feel even hotter in bed.


  • Woman could replace their usual body moisturizer with a cooling aloe vera after-sun product. This will help lower your skin temperature
  • Many people report positively on the benefits of wearing a cooling collar. They are available from Koolnek Products Ltd (03 327-9909).
  • Sleep on a feather or down pillow with a cotton pillowcase. Synthetic pillows will retain the heat.
  • Try using a chillow. This is a thin, soft, thermo-regulating leather device that pops into your pillow to cool it down. Fishpond site often have them for sale.

 Planning Your Day

  • Use the cool of the morning and the evening to do essential chores such as meal preparation, household chores, and gardening.
  • Be aware of your particular reaction to activities and heat; recording this information in a diary can help you to discern patterns and hence to plan your daily routine to avoid overheating.
  • A cooling shower in the mid/late afternoon with a short sit down period after works wonders.
  • Cool down after exercise.

Your Environment

  • Install air-conditioning in the home and car.
  • Keep your bathroom cool.
  • It is possible for you to control aspects of the environment. Planning and making choices in regard to heat management will help you to stay as independent as possible and allow you to make the best use of your energy

There are many websites that provide cooling clothing or products. You can locate them easily by simply Googling the phrase: cooling clothing/products for people with MS.

All information is for the reader’s interest only and does not constitute medical advice.