Exclusive Content

MS and Climate Change

By Matt Cavallo

Living in Phoenix, the unrelenting summer heat has made living with multiple sclerosis increasingly difficult for the past month. It is well established that heat can cause temporary worsening of symptoms. The good news is the heat effect on MS is temporary. The bad news is this summer is the hottest summer on record, so the heat is not temporary, which makes my symptom flare feel more permanent than temporary.  

Phoenix set a record this summer with 31 days straight of 110-degree Fahrenheit temperatures or greater. Phoenix is not an anomaly in terms of heat. In fact according to Scientific American, July was the hottest month ever recorded on Earth — and likely the hottest in about 120,000 years — preliminary analyses show. Reuters reports that scientists expect 2023 or 2024 will end up as the hottest year in the record books, surpassing 2016. This is in part because of being in the early stages of an El Nino event.

I know what you are thinking. With no relief from the heat in sight, and with next year being as hot, or potentially hotter than this summer, is it time to put a “For Sale” sign in my front yard and head towards a cooler climate? That thought has crossed my mind, but unfortunately it is not realistic. The truth is no matter where you live, the summer is hot and keeps getting hotter. The challenge becomes managing your MS to maintain your quality of life throughout the whole summer knowing the temperatures are going to make your symptoms worse.

Tips for managing MS and climate change:
  • Understand that while the heat may make your symptoms worse, the heat does not cause more MS activity. 
  • Be mindful of the weather forecast and the 10-day weather outlook. While weather forecasts are subject to change, they do provide a good opportunity to plan and prepare for any climate-related adjustments.
  • Take advantage of cooling programs that provide cooling items free of charge, such as the MS Focus Cooling Program.
  • Cold drinks and frozen treats help cool you down. Make your drinks with ice or eat a popsicle. 
  • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
  • Cold showers also cool you down quickly. Turn the water on and hop in the shower immediately to get the coldest results. 
  • Wear light, breathable clothes. Stay away from heavy winter fabrics.
  • Get activities done outside of high-heat hours. From noon to 5 p.m. is typically the hottest window of time in a given day. If you can, take care of stuff in the morning before it gets too hot or in the evening once it cools off. Then you can stay inside during the peak heat times.
  • Stay in the air-conditioned spaces during peak heat times. Did you know you can get a prescription from your neurologist for air-conditioning if it is medically necessary? This means that the purchase price could be tax deductible. 
  • Researchers have found that more neurologists’ visits are related to days with higher temperatures. Heat waves can put more people at risk, so it may be harder to get into see your neurologist unless you book in advance. If you find that your MS is affected by the heat, you may want to schedule a summer visit to your neurologist ahead of time to ensure you will be seen. If in doubt, call your neurologist. If it is an emergency, go to the emergency room at the nearest hospital right away.