Managing Diabetes During the Hot, Humid Summer Poses Some Added Challenges.
Summertime is a fun season when we tend to spend a lot of time outdoors and family vacations kick into full swing. However, for those living with diabetes the dog days of summer also pose some added blood sugar management challenges. Those hot and sunny days can even lead to some serious health issues for people with diabetes who don’t take proper precautions.
In this post, we’ll look at how the hot and humid summer months can impact those with diabetes and offer up a few go-to tips to make sure your summer is a safe and healthy one.
It’s A Fact – Summer Hits Those with Diabetes Harder
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people who have both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes tend to feel the summer heat more than those without the disease. This is due to several reasons:
- Over the long term, diabetes can damage the body’s blood vessels and compromise the nervous system. This often includes damage to the sweat glands, which become unable to work as efficiently, thereby, making it harder for the body to cool itself off. If a person isn’t careful this can lead to heat exhaustion and worse, heat stroke, which is a medical emergency.
- Not drinking enough liquids in the summer months can elevate blood sugar. Once blood sugar is elevated, it can lead to an increased need to urinate. When too much liquid leaves the body and not enough enters the body, it can lead to dehydration - a serious threat for those living with diabetes.
- Sometimes high temperatures can also affect how the body uses insulin. This, as you can imagine, tends to make it more difficult to properly manage and control blood sugar, and puts you at risk for both unexpected dips and spikes.
It’s Not Just Rising Mercury, It’s Rising Humidity
Depending on where you live, summers aren’t just hot, they can also be intensely humid. Humidity is the amount of moisture that’s in the air and too much can elevate the danger of heat stroke. Here’s why.
Normally, when the body sweats, the sweat gradually evaporates, and this is what causes the body to cool down. But when there is high humidity in the air, sweat cannot evaporate as readily, and this makes it harder for the body to cool itself down.
Add the fact that those with diabetes are more prone to feeling the heat and quicker to dehydrate, a day of high humidity requires some added caution, particularly if you’re spending time outdoors.
10 Tips on Beating the Heat
You certainly can’t control the weather. But you can control your exposure to it, and you can take precautions to avoid potential problems before they occur. Here are a few tips to help you keep heat and humidity at bay.
- Drink plenty of water
Dehydration is one of the primary concerns for those with diabetes during the summer months. So, you’re going to want to up your fluid intake - but please stick to water. If you want, go ahead and squeeze in a fresh lemon or lime for flavor, but avoid those caffeinated energy drinks or sweetened beverages, as they can further complicate your blood sugar management.
- Test your blood sugar more often
Higher temperatures can make your blood sugar fluctuate more than you’re accustomed to seeing. It’s often a good idea to test more frequently than normal, whether using a glucose meter and test strips or simply by scanning your continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) device.
- Check the heat index
It’s not enough to check the temperature on its own. A heat index measurement combines both temperature and humidity to give you a truer idea of exactly what’s waiting for you outdoors. The CDC recommends that if the temperature reaches 80ºF in the shade with 40% humidity (Heat Index of 80F), you should take extra precaution when going outdoors. Note the recommendation says shade because the heat index can be up to 15ºF higher in the sunshine. The National Weather Service has an easy online heat index calculator to help you gauge heat index.
- Stick to the shade
As we just noted, the heat index can be dramatically higher in open, sunny areas than it is in shady areas. Whenever possible, stick to the shade to minimize the risk of overheating.
- Exercise early or do it indoors
If you’re currently managing diabetes, you hopefully have a regular fitness or activity routine to keep weight in check and help lower blood sugar. But the summer months may require you to change things a bit. If you’re accustomed to walking, biking, or doing any type of exercise outdoors, be sure to do it in the early morning hours before temperatures reach their peak. Or go ahead and move your routine into the air conditioning. Perhaps, join a local gym or use one of the many fitness apps out there. Better safe than sorry.
- Avoid alcohol
Alcohol has a diuretic effect and too much of it will cause you to urinate more frequently, increasing the risk of dehydration.
- Wear loose-fitting, light-colored clothing
Tight clothing can inhibit cooling and dark tones tend to absorb the sunlight and heat. So, keep it summery! Light colors and loose fits.
- Wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunblock
Sunburn isn’t just painful; it can also raise your blood sugar. If you’re going to spend any extended time in the sun, be sure to slather on the SPF. Also, wear a good hat, one that covers your scalp – in other words those mesh ball caps don’t cut it! Sunglasses are also a smart idea. After all, as someone with diabetes your eyes are vulnerable to complications.
- Crank up the A/C
Even indoors, if the temperatures are high enough, a breezy window won’t do the trick, and neither will a ceiling fan. Turn on the air conditioning or go somewhere that has it - a mall, a store, a friend’s house.
- Minimize time outdoors
It can be hard to do when summer days can be so inviting. However, if it’s extremely hot and humid, the reality is your best bet is often to simply stay indoors.
Don’t Forget About Your Meds
Excessive heat can also wreak havoc on your diabetes medication and other supplies. Insulin and other prescriptions, as well as equipment like glucose meters, test strips, and insulin pumps, are vulnerable to high temperatures, so:
– Never leave them in a parked car or even in direct sunlight.
– Store them in a cool location and not beside windows or in areas that get a lot of sunlight.
– Use an insulin cooling case when traveling, but never pack insulin directly in ice.
We want you to have a safe and happy summer with friends and family, and there’s no reason you shouldn’t. Yes, as someone living with diabetes, you should take some extra precautions and steps to play it safe, but that doesn’t mean missing out on the fun. Be smart this summer and it’ll be a great one.