Millions of individuals worldwide suffer from multiple sclerosis, or MS. It’s an illness when the immune system of the body unintentionally targets the neurological system. Blurred vision and weariness, double vision, muscle weakness, loss of bladder control, cognitive issues, and loss of sensation are only a few of the remarkably diverse symptoms. Depending on which areas of the body’s nerve-signaling architecture the immune system attacks, different people will experience different symptoms.

Researchers have discovered a correlation between days with higher temperatures and significant temperature changes and an increase in MS clinic visits and reports of MS symptoms. Heat waves are already becoming more common and powerful due to climate change, which increases the risk of exacerbating symptoms for more patients.

For most people, heat triggers a flare-up. Elevations in body temperature, such as fevers, hot baths, exercise, and exposure to warm settings, can hinder the transmission of electrical signals along injured nerve segments, leading to a cascade of issues related to sensory perception, cognition, vision, and mobility. As the climate changes, there will be an increased danger of weather-related flares.

The good news, according to Giesser, is that heat does not inflict additional nerve damage, even while it makes it more difficult for electrical signals to pass through previously damaged nerve fibers.

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How MS causes damage

Experts are unsure of the exact cause of MS, as they are with many other autoimmune diseases, when the immune system starts to target and obstruct the brain, optic nerves, and spinal cord, which is the central nervous system.

They are aware that once the process begins, any part of the system could sustain damage. The majority of the attack targets the tissues and cells that insulate nerve cells, enabling them to send impulses quickly and smoothly to one another. The insulating layer, or myelin sheath, becomes irritated and ultimately destroyed with each attack; this process is known as demyelination. Numerous symptoms result from this disruption of the normal flow of nerve transmission in these injured locations.

Even if they don’t result in fresh demyelination, heat-induced symptom flare-ups can be upsetting and incapacitating.
MS patients at risk during weather disasters
Once MS has been present for years, a person may become weak or disabled. Because emergency services may be overburdened or unavailable during extreme weather events, such as wildfires or floods, MS patients may be more vulnerable to psychological and physical trauma. Furthermore, fragile or incapacitated MS patients may find it more difficult to access evacuation and transportation services.

Severe weather events may also make it difficult to get in-home care, prescription drugs, insurance information, and medical attention. Those with MS who depend on consistent infusion therapy to control their symptoms may find these interruptions especially difficult to cope with.

How does air pollution affect the nervous system?

Additionally, there is mounting evidence that breathing contaminated air might damage the nervous system. Researchers are looking at the possibility that air pollutants produced by burning fossil fuels, such as particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide, could raise the risk of MS or cause relapses. Multiple research suggests that breathing in air pollution may exacerbate multiple sclerosis. However, it’s still unclear if prolonged exposure causes MS to develop in the first place.

Although Giesser does not know of a proven link between air pollution and MS, she does speculate that air pollution may lead to inflammatory responses in the body. “Smoking is the single worst thing for MS because of this, among other reasons. According to Giesser, “widespread inflammation may activate your immune system.”