Dealing with the Summer Heat and Multiple Sclerosis

August 21, 2014 Angeli Mayadev, MD

Seattle's summer is not over yet and temperatures have been on the rise. Many individuals with Multiple Sclerosis experience a worsening of symptoms when the weather is hot or humid. The heat can temporarily induce symptoms; however, it does not cause more disease activity. Should one become overheated, simple steps can be taken to lower your body temperature. The following can assist in easing the effects of heat:  


·     Plan ahead. If your day involves being outside or in non-air conditioned spaces, bring along supplies to counter a rise in body temperature. 

·     Wear lightweight, loose, breathable clothing. 

·     Carry a water bottle with an iced beverage with you during the day. Iced drinks, popsicles, and shaved ice can keep you hydrated and provide temperature relief.

·     Wear cooling vests, neck wraps headbands (homemade versions can be as simple as running a washcloth under water and placing it in the freezer before wrapping around your neck or forehead.

·     Remain in air conditioned spaces.

·     Keep a mist bottle of water nearby to spray on your body or in front of a fan.

·     Exercise in an air conditioned space, in front of an oscillating fan, or in a cool pool (<85 degrees).

The Swedish MS Center has free open gym hours and provides a cool and safe environment. The MS Center gym is open to those who have previously seen a physical therapist at Swedish. 



Mondays:  8:30 AM - 12:30 PM 

Fridays:    12:30 PM - 3:30 PM 

Reserve a gym time: (206) 320-2200. 
Learn more about the patient exercise program.

It is important to keep in mind that some individuals with MS experience a worsening of symptoms in cold weather as well. One should avoid extremes of hot and cold temperatures.

Sun Protection and Multiple Sclerosis

As the sunny days and higher temperatures continue, issues of sun protection come up in the Multiple Sclerosis Clinic. The majority of MS patients are heat sensitive, so our key recommendations are wearing a large brimmed hat, sunglasses, a cooling vest/tie, and drinking plenty of liquids. 

Which sunscreen is best?  Does sunscreen reduce my ability to make Vitamin D? 

Before answering, it is important to review the types of ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun. There are two main types: UVA and UVB. Sun protection factor (SPF) rates how well the sunscreen protects against one type of cancer-causing and sunburn source, UVB rays. UVA rays also increase risk of skin cancers and are responsible for age related wrinkles. The SPF of a product is not rated for UVA rays, so you need to pay attention to the ingredients of a sunscreen in order to ensure that it covers both UVA and UVB rays. The ingredients with broad-spectrum protection include benzophenones (oxybenzone), cinnamates, salicylates, titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, avobenzone (Parsol 1789) and ecamsule (Mexoryl SX). Clothing offers an average SPF of 5. Choose a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or greater, but, after SPF 30, the UVB filter benefit is minimal. If you are outside more than two hours, or in the water/sweating a lot, it is best to re-apply the sunscreen. The majority of people do not apply enough. 

Does sunscreen prevent getting enough rays to make adequate Vitamin D?

In theory, sunscreens do prevent the absorption of UVB rays (which are the ones responsible in the production of Vitamin D). However, a large randomized controlled study done during the summer months in Australia showed that patients in the sunscreen and placebo (sugar pill) group had similar levels of Vitamin D. Possible explanations include not using enough sunscreen to prevent adequate UVB penetration to reduce levels of Vitamin D. We make up to 10,000 IU of Vitamin D when most of the body is exposed to 20-25 minutes of intense sunlight. So, if patients are concerned, one option is to apply sunscreen after this amount of time exposure. 

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