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Heat and MS

If you have multiple sclerosis (MS), it’s likely that the sun and the heat are your foes.

Even a slight increase in temperature, something as little as 0.5°F (0.75°C), can worsen and agitate symptoms. Your MS symptoms may also get worse as a result of:

  • exercise or an overly active lifestyle
  • hot showers or baths
  • fever from a cold or other acute illness

In medical terms, this is known as Uhthoff’s phenomenon. Overheating was actually the basis for diagnosing MS prior to the use of MRI. Since a slight temperature increase can impair nerve impulses enough to cause symptoms, a “hot tub test” was once used to spur on symptoms.

While temporary, such small temperature increases can greatly impact your quality of life.

Cooling vests can help to maintain your core body temperature, prevent temperature fluctuations, and reduce flare-ups.

There are different kinds of cooling vests with varying price points and features. Battery- or electric-powered vests, called active cooling vests, can be more expensive but can cool the body longer. Gel pack or passive cooling vests don’t provide such long-lasting cooling, but they’re usually cheaper.

Before you purchase a cooling vest, take a look at the 10 models below.

Polar Products Cool58 Zipper Vest Kit with Vest, Neck Wrap, and Extra Packs

Price: Around $385

Details: This kit includes a vest, neck wrap, and extra cooling packs, making it a real MS lifesaver. The cotton twill cooling vest uses packs that you can recharge in just a bucket of ice water. It’s a bit higher in cost, but it can be a great choice when you’re traveling, camping, or spending time anywhere a refrigerator or freezer isn’t available.

The vest gets high marks for its customizable fit and unisex design, and it’s appropriate for a variety of sizes, activities, and climates. It’s discreet and can be worn either over or under your clothes. It’s also machine washable.

First Line Technology Standard Basic Cooling Vest

Price: Around $370

Details: This vest has a two-piece, over-the-shoulder design that works well for a variety of activities. It also offers comfort while lounging.

Expect each use to last up to three hours. Although it’s on the more expensive side, First Line basic cooling vests get high points for wearability, convenience, and comfort.

Arctic Heat Body Cooling Vest

Price: Around $225

Details: This lightweight vest uses embedded gel and can stay cool for up to two hours. It mimics the body’s natural cooling process through its two body-cooling fabrics.

Designed with the athlete in mind, this performance vest might work better for people who plan to be involved in active or outdoor activities for shorter periods of time. Available in sizes XS to 5XL, it also may suit larger body types better.

ThermApparel UnderCool Cooling Vest

Price: Around $200

Details: This one comes in at under 2 pounds. It’s thin enough to wear under your clothing, but it’s attractive enough all on its own and looks like basic gym wear. With wide holes for your arms and neck, it allows for freedom of movement.

The UnderCool vest uses small, thin cooling packs that can keep you cool for about 90 minutes. It comes with an extra set of cooling packs as well, so you can simply change them out to extend your time outside or in the gym. Made of nylon and spandex, it’s machine washable.

StaCool Under Vest

Price: Around $190

Details: Unlike some other vests, the StaCool Under Vest was designed specifically with people with MS in mind. This sleek-looking vest uses four ThermoPak gel packs and provides three hours of cooling relief per ThermoPak set.

It can be worn either under or over clothes. It’s slightly heavier than other options and weighs roughly 5 pounds with the ThermoPaks. This is something to keep in mind when determining whether it’s right for you.

Polar Products CoolOR Adjustable Zipper Cooling Vest with Long Kool Max Pack Strips

Price: Around $177

Details: This vest uses frozen water-based cooling packs that fit into insulated pockets. The cooling packs, which should be kept in the freezer until solid, are made of biodegradable materials and are reusable for years. They stay cool for up to four hours at a time.

The vest weighs 4–6 pounds, depending on the size you purchase. It’s machine washable. Because of its lower price point and ease of use, this is a popular choice for those affected by heat sensitivity.

Maranda Enterprises FlexiFreeze Ice Vest

Price: Around $100

Details: The FlexiFreeze ice vest is made of neoprene. It claims to be “the lightest, thinnest, best performing, and most cost effective cooling vest.”

Rather than gel packs, water is used as the cooling mechanism. Water is more efficient and more lightweight. When the ice sheets are removed, both the vest and panels are machine washable. It comes with either a Velcro or zipper closure.

Alpinestars MX Cooling Vest

Price: Around $60

Details: Designed for sports, this vest uses a polymer-embedded material that absorbs water, and then slowly releases it in layers of fabric. Instead of cooling packs, you prepare the vest by soaking it in water for 5 to 10 minutes, then squeezing the excess water. It can keep you cool for several hours.

Lightweight and sporty, it allows for plenty of movement and looks more like a sleeveless T-shirt than a cooling vest.

TechNiche Evaporative Cooling Ultra Sport Vest

Price: Around $39

Details: Among the least-expensive options, this lightweight pullover vest can provide 5 to 10 hours of cooling relief per soaking. This vest absorbs sweat and releases the moisture slowly through evaporation. Evaporative vests may be best for low-humidity climates.

This vest is specifically designed for runners, cyclists, and motocross riders. It’s a great option for those with a more active lifestyle. It comes in a variety of colors and sizes, is customizable, and can be machine-washed.

Ergodyne Chill-Its 6665 Evaporative Cooling Vest

Price: Around $33

Details: This super-lightweight and inexpensive cooling vest comes in lime green and gray. You don’t need any cooling packs or heavy accessories. After soaking in cold water for two to five minutes, its cooling power lasts up to four hours.

With mesh side panels that provide breathability and a water-repellent inner liner, this vest can be worn over your shirt. Just hand-wash it and use it again and again.

When you’re really feeling the heat, you might want to add a few accessories to assist your cooling vest. Other times, you may only need a quick cooldown. Either way, there are lots of cooling products to choose from. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Alfamo cooling towel

Price: Around $24

Details: With dimensions of 60 inches by 29 inches, this extra-long towel can work as a neck wrap, bandana, or in any creative way you like. Because it’s so versatile, it’s a good value for the price. It chills fast and stays cool for up to three hours.

Shop: Purchase this towel in nearly 20 different colors.

TechNiche HyperKewl 6536 evaporative cooling skull cap

Price: Around $10–$17

Details: Give this cap a quick tie in the back and you’re all set for 5 to 10 hours of cooling action. Mesh construction provides a nice airflow and it’s sturdy enough for everyday use. One size fits all.

Shop: Purchase this cap in a variety of colors and patterns.

TechNiche HyperKewl evaporative cooling sport cap

Price: Around $13–$16

Details: Soak this sporty adjustable cap and it should stay cool for 5 to 10 hours. It’ll help keep the sun out of your eyes and the nylon liner keeps your head dry. It’s good whether you’re playing sports or just enjoying a warm summer day.

Shop: Purchase this cap in black or a blue-and-white combination.

Mission Enduracool cooling wristbands

Price: Around $7–$13

Details: Just wet these wristbands and they stay cool for hours. One size fits most people and they’re machine washable. They’re a simple and convenient option.

Shop: Purchase these wristbands.

Ergodyne Chill-Its 6700CT evaporative cooling bandana with tie closure

Price: Around $4–$6

Details: One of the quickest ways to cut the heat is with a cooling bandana. Just position it around your neck for immediate relief that can last up to four hours. This one comes in a variety of styles and they’re easy to wash and reuse.

Shop: Purchase this bandana in a variety of colors.

Regardless of what type of vest you choose, make sure it fits you properly around the torso. A vest that’s too loose-fitting may not give you the desired effect.

Other features to consider include:

  • how long it’ll keep you cool
  • what’s involved in cooling the vest
  • how much it weighs
  • how it needs to be washed
  • whether it’s for passive or active pursuits
  • whether it can be worn over or under clothing
  • attractiveness
  • the price point for its intended use

Cooling vests aren’t usually covered by health insurance. Still, it never hurts to double-check with your insurance provider. Some programs may also help offset the cost, such as the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America (MSAA) and the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation. Military veterans may also qualify for a free Polar Products cooling vest through the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

The most important thing is to listen to your body and to know your limitations. MS and its symptoms can be successfully managed.

It also doesn’t hurt to be aware of techniques that can help you stay cool without your vest.