Cold and Heat Intolerance

I’m a Pacific Northwest (PNW) girl, born and raised in the suburbs of Seattle. It does not get particularly cold or hot here. Snow is rare and short-lived. We have limited snow plows and deicers, and when it does snow, everything pretty much shuts down. Extreme heat is also rare. In my forty-one years, I’ve never lived in a house with central air (except when I lived in DC). Lately, our winters have been getting snowier and our summers hotter. I am not a fan.

I am always cold. Even compared to my PNW-born and raised friends and family, I have no tolerance for being cold. I’m bundled up in a sweatshirt and shivering watching my son’s baseball game, while the other parents are comfortable in tee-shirts. I went on the boat with my family last weekend, on a beautiful, sunny, but windy day. I had goosebumps. When my family gets together to watch football, I’m under a blanket while the rest of them are complaining they’re hot. The heated seats in my car are always on. And once I’m cold, it’s impossible to get warm except with a scalding hot shower.

I also hate being hot. I lived in DC for three years and the summers were the worst part. Growing up, summer was my least-favorite season. Who wants to be hot, sweaty, and unable to sleep? Today it was in the 80’s. It was lovely, but right now I’m sitting in my un-air-conditioned living room, burning up, sweating, and wondering how I’m going to sleep tonight. I do have a window AC unit that a friend graciously gifted me when my son was born, but it basically turns a small area from inferno to barely tolerable and has no impact on the rest of the house. It’s supposed to be over 100 this weekend, and I think I might die.

I’m happy between 60 and 80 degrees, give or take. I’ve enjoyed ski trips and sledding, beach vacations and afternoons lounging in the sun. But, for the most part, I prefer mild temperatures. Not too hot, not too cold.

Cold and heat intolerance are common in people with MS. It manifests differently in different people. For some the cold is worse, for others the heat. I’ve never been a fan of cold or hot weather, but recently, I’ve noticed the cold and heat trigger physical symptoms.

This winter, when it snowed, my hands hurt. They ached like I’d been texting for 24-hours, or gardening with a tiny shovel, or carrying too many bags of groceries up and down flights of stairs. But, that ache was constant. Lotion, heat, massage, nothing helped. They also burned, like I’d been cutting jalapenos and the juice had seeped into my skin. Taking a hot shower to get myself warm intensified the burning when the water hit my hands. And, the hot showers made my vision blurry.

Like hot showers, hot weather can make my vision blurry. Sometimes, I get a tremor in my left hand when I get too hot, from a shower or from a hot day. When I get too over-heated, I start to feel nauseous, short of breath, and exhausted. This only happens when I get really hot. Warm, sunny days actually make me feel much better. I have more energy. My mood improves. The stiffness in my body relaxes and I have less pain. What I’ve learned is that if it’s a hot day, I can’t be outside for too long or exert myself too much. It’s not as much about the temperature outside as it is about my internal temperature. So, if it’s warm, I’m better off sitting in the sun than going for a long walk or doing yard work. I need to take breaks, cool down, and drink lots of water. The good thing about the heat is that the symptoms I’ve experienced are temporary and usually go away quickly once I can cool down. This summer is going to be a lot of trial and error, figuring out what does and does not work for me.

I’ve spent months wondering if I have MS, analyzing symptoms, Googling, and waiting. Last week, I finally got an answer.

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