Summer is on the way. Here’s what you need to know about managing your diabetes
Summer is around the corner and for most of us that brings a welcome change of seasons. However, for those living with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, the change in weather also brings some added concerns. That’s because individuals with diabetes can be extremely sensitive to hot and humid temperatures, and this can certainly have an impact on how you feel and how effectively you’re able to control your blood sugar.
In this post, we’ll dig into the added challenges summertime can bring to your diabetes management plan, as well as offer up some tips to help you enjoy those warm summer days safely.
Diabetes and Summer Heat
Did you know that people with both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes feel the heat more intensely than individuals without diabetes? It’s true. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are a number of reasons why this is the case.
- Certain diabetes-related complications, such as damage to blood vessels and nerves can impact your sweat glands and prevent your body from cooling itself as effectively as it normally would.
- People with diabetes are also more likely to become dehydrated than those without the disease. If you become dehydrated in the summer a vicious cycle can begin. Dehydration causes your blood sugar to rise, which in turn can cause more frequent urination, which leads to even greater levels of dehydration.
- High temperatures can impact the way the body reacts to certain medications, including insulin. Because dehydration reduces blood supply to the skin, it reduces the body’s ability to absorb insulin injected by syringe or insulin pen. So much so that you will likely need to test your blood sugar more often and may need to adjust your insulin dosages during the summer.
It’s Both the Heat and Humidity
The CDC points out that even on days when it might not seem too hot outside, a combination of heat and humidity can be dangerous. This is because of how the body uses sweat to cool down. Normally, sweat coats your skin and then gradually evaporates causing a cooling sensation. However, on days with high humidity the amount of moisture in the air doesn’t allow sweat to evaporate as easily, and therefore the body doesn’t cool down effectively. This can be dangerous, leading to heat exhaustion and elevated blood sugar levels.
Check the Heat Index
One recommendation to avoid heat exhaustion is to check what’s called the “heat index”, a temperature measurement that combines temperature and humidity to show you how hot the day actually feels. The National Weather Service offers a Heat Index Chart that makes it easy to determine the heat index temperature on any given day. You can explore it at the link above, however, as an example, if it is 88°F and the humidity is 65%, then the heat index temperature (how it really feels outside) is 98° F. That’s quite a big jump in degrees.
Summer Heat and Diabetes Medications
The high temperatures and humidity that summer brings can also do a number on your medication if you’re not careful. Most types of insulin can tolerate temperatures up to the mid 90°s F. Temperatures higher than this, such as those found in a parked car or even just outdoors on a sunny beach day, can cause the medication to break down. So, when you’re carrying insulin throughout the day, be sure it’s not left out in the heat, particularly for prolonged periods. Additionally, diabetic supplies such as glucose test strips and glucose meters can be damaged by extreme heat, causing them to be ineffective at accurately measuring blood sugar.
7 Tips for Diabetes Management This Summer
While it’s certainly important to take the rising mercury into consideration over the summer, there’s no reason most people with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes can’t enjoy active and exciting summers. You simply need to take a few extra precautions. Here are some tips.
Drink plenty of water
The heat and humidity can cause you to dehydrate, and this can do a number on your blood sugar control. Drink plenty of water. In fact, it’s a good idea to carry a refillable water bottle with you during the summer months, particularly if you spend a lot of time outdoors in the sunshine.
Escape to the shade
Remember that “heat index” we went over earlier in this post? Well, areas that are shaded can be substantial cooler, up to 15°F, then areas that are in full sunlight. Stay in the shade as much as possible and if you do spend time in the sun, like on those summer beach days, make sure you take regular breaks in the shade.
Check your blood sugar often
Your doctor will likely recommend testing more often during the hot summer months, particularly if you’re the outdoors type. If you use a glucose meter and test strips, be sure to keep them out of the direct heat. You might even want to carry a cool pack. Too much heat can also impact insulin pumps and other equipment, so be careful out there.
Wear loose-fitting clothing
This is especially true if you live in a high humidity area. Tight clothing inhibits the ability for sweat to evaporate and cool you down. Looser clothes allow evaporation to occur more freely.
Plan around the hottest temperatures
One of the best things you can do is to plan any outdoor activities around the hottest parts of the day. Go early in the morning or wait until the sun is lower in the sky towards evening. Physical activity or even just being outdoors in the heart of the day can greatly increase your risk of dehydration.
Prepare for fire and storm season
Summer is hurricane season for much of the southeast and fire season for those living out west. Under these conditions, you might be forced to leave your home quickly or you might even be left at home without power following a storm. Be sure to have a diabetes emergency kit packed and ready to go, and have a plan in place for power outages, such as a back-up gas generator to run your refrigerator. Many of your diabetic supplies and medicines will likely require temperature control.
Limit your time in extreme heat
Go out and enjoy those summer days, but if the temperature gets too hot, limit your time outdoors. Also, be sure to limit physical activity in extreme heat. Yes, exercise is important to controlling your blood sugar, but try not to do it in excessive heat. Wait till evening, workout indoors, or go to an air-conditioned gym or fitness center. Look, there will be plenty of beautiful summer days to go around. Play it safe and you’ll be able to enjoy the season and still manage your diabetes effectively.
We hope you found this post helpful. At Diabeticteststrips.org, we committed to keeping you up to date with the latest news and insights on living with diabetes. We’re also proud to help you stick to your doctor-prescribed diabetic treatment plan with a huge selection of diabetes supplies and equipment.