Does heat make tics worse?

Does being hot makes your tics worse?

For some it does. For others it isn’t a factor.

I asked the r/Tourettes community if temperature affected their tics, with some interesting results.

Results from my poll on temperature and tics

Out of 159 people:

15 (including myself) felt that tics worsened in the heat.

87 people felt the cold was a trigger

57 people didn’t feel any different.

Despite the low number, we can say that heat does indeed affect some people with tics.

My experience with heat and tics

I am from the UK, cold weather is pretty normal. My first ever holiday abroad as a kid resulted in me being sick in the first hour in the hotel. Heat brings on anxiety, and anxiety and tics go hand in hand.

But this does pose another question…

Is it anxiety, not necessarily heat, that makes tics worse for some people in warmer weather?

I had the idea for this post whilst wearing winter clothes on the London Underground. I went from the cold outside-weather to the stuffy, claustrophobic tube in a matter of minutes. It is often here where my tics become the most severe.

Commuters cram onto busy tube trains in Waterloo

I’m suffocated by the scarf that has no purpose anymore other than to choke me. I want to rip my jacket off but my hands are already full.

I simply wait for the next stop and suffer until then, although my tics often stay at that severity for a while longer.

The tics are usually head nodding, eyebrow raising and shoulder shrugging. At this moment in time the heat is becoming unbearable, and this is why I associate heat with tics.

But if I go back to that holiday as a child, I only recall the anxiety from heat. I don’t recall an increase in tics, if there was one.

Another time my tics are worse is when trying to sleep. I am usually too hot to be fully covered by the duvet and sleep is a struggle. My head nodding increases ten-fold on the pillow and has gotten worse in lockdown.

But I don’t have head nodding so much when I am relaxing before bed. So I feel heat isn’t a factor here.

I am more convinced now that heat doesn’t make my tics worse, anxiety does. But only sometimes.

When heat helps tics

One user during the poll commented that baths really help them to relax. I can agree with this.

Hot water is great for relaxing the muscles, and I love taking a shower for this reason. I don’t feel tics increase in the shower/bath at all. This is also true for swimming, it has always been a hobby I have enjoyed with little to no tics.

I took a two year backpacking trip to Australia between 2017- 2019, and despite being in the heat for long periods of the day, I don’t feel my tics worsened. These two years were some of the best memories I have and although I was alone on the other side of the world, I felt very relaxed on my travels.

Photo of me taking a selfie at the observation deck of the Q1 Tower, Melbourne

Contrary to my initial thoughts upon writing this post, it seems like heat has been more kind to me than anything over the years. It has only been when heat and anxiety mix that my tics worsen.

But why does heat cause anxiety on my childhood holiday, but not on my most recent Australia trip? And why as an adult do my tics increase on a sweaty London Underground but not at the beach?

Loose summer clothing vs tight/restricting winter clothing

In the summer I am wearing very little, and what I am wearing is often loose-fitting. I am warm but I am relaxed, even if it takes a little time for my body to adjust to an unfamiliar climate.

In the winter I keep warm by wearing two-to-three layers, thick socks, jeans, belt and a scarf. My body movement is much more restricted and my anxiety increases with this. I feel trapped when in a closed environment with these on.

Despite being in the heat in both scenarios, one brings a lot more anxiety. It is when I feel closed in and my movement is restricted.

It would be interesting to know if some people that said cold weather makes tics worse share this perspective.

Conclusion

A minority of people in my poll believe heat makes tics worse, but the reasons for this will vary.

For me personally, it doesn’t seem to be due to the heat itself but from anxiety and restrictions from tight clothing.

Hot weather itself doesn’t make my tics worse after the initial anxiety goes away. It can even make me feel more relaxed.

The cause of tics may also depend on where the person is living. For example, someone living in a cold country may feel increased stress in an unfamiliar tropical climate. Or they may love the hotter weather as shivering is the trigger for tics.

Baths and showers seem to help many people relax as well, including myself.

But it is still true that 14 other people out of 159 felt that tics worsen in the heat, and I am looking forward to exploring this more with the community and understanding why that might be.


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