If you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes you may struggle to keep blood sugar under control, especially in hot and humid conditions. You are also at higher risk for heat-related health concerns. To avoid these dangerous issues, it’s best to take extra precautions for managing diabetes in the summertime.
Risks for People with Diabetes in the Summer
Heat-related risks for people with diabetes range from mild to severe. Heat can cause hypoglycemia (blood sugar levels are lower than standard) and hyperglycemia (blood sugar levels are higher than standard). Managing blood sugar levels can be more difficult in high temperatures because staying hydrated is more difficult. Dehydration can make blood sugar levels increase.
People who have complications from diabetes like damage to blood vessels and nerves are at the greatest risk in the heat. Damage to blood vessels can mean the body can’t cool itself as effectively by sweating. While dehydration is a concern, heat exhaustion and heat stroke are also possible.
People who manage their diabetes with insulin may need to work with their physician to adjust insulin levels in the summertime. Some people may need to change the types of insulin or dose if they are active outside during times of high heat. Keep in mind, changes in insulin should only be done with medical supervision or approval.
Tips to Decrease Risks in the Summer Heat
- Stay inside during the hottest parts of the day.
- Exercise indoors whenever possible. Consider going to an air-conditioned gym or a shopping mall for safe exercise.
- Stay in the shade if you need to be outside during high heat.
- Drink plenty of water. Even if you aren’t thirsty, keep sipping water throughout the day.
- Keep a variety of cool liquids nearby and easy to access while outside, like carrying a cooler or chilled water bottle.
- Wear loose-fitting layers that are light and block the sun
- Check blood sugars more often than usual, especially during physical activity.
- Wear sunscreen and reapply if outside for longer periods.
- Wear a hat that protects your face and neck.
- Avoid going barefoot to prevent damage to your feet from hot surfaces.
- Avoid alcohol since it can cause dehydration.
- Skip drinks that contain caffeine, like coffee, black teas, or energy drinks.
- Keep glucose tabs or gels on hand in case of low blood sugars. A plan for low blood sugar management should be carefully made ahead of outdoor activities.
- Keep various liquids on hand – water, sugar-free flavored waters, iced unsweetened teas, or low-sugar slushies or treats.
How to Store Diabetes Equipment in the Heat
High heat and the sun can affect many of the essential tools for blood glucose management. These tools are critical for diabetes self-care but must be stored properly to function correctly.
Insulin must be kept temperature-controlled and out of direct sunlight. Some types of insulin can tolerate temperatures up to about 93 degrees Fahrenheit. Insulin should be kept in a cooler but not directly on top of ice or an ice pack. Do not leave insulin in a hot car. Extreme temperatures can break down insulin, which means it will not work as usual in the body and may not lower your blood sugar.
The glucometer used to check blood glucose, should be kept out of direct sunlight. If the glucometer is damaged, it may give false or inaccurate readings. Checking blood sugars frequently during hot weather is very important, so the glucometer is a key piece of equipment.
Test strips can also be damaged by the sun. They should be stored in a cool area, out of direct sunlight. It is also important to ensure that test strips do not get wet during summer activities or that they may not work properly.
Concerning Heat-Related Conditions and Symptoms
Heat-related conditions have the following associated symptoms:
- Mild to moderate dehydration: fatigue, dizziness, headache, thirstiness, decreased urination
- Severe dehydration: extreme thirst, very dark urine, rapid heart rate
- Heat exhaustion: heavy sweating, fast or weak pulse, muscle cramps, nausea, or vomiting
- Heat stroke: high body temperature, fast, strong pulse, nausea, confusion, passing out
If you start having signs of any of these conditions, stop what you’re doing and head inside to a cooler area. Drink plenty of fluids to rehydrate, and check blood sugar levels frequently. If blood sugar levels are too low, follow guidelines from your physician to increase blood sugar with a carbohydrate-rich snack or drink. If blood sugar levels are too high, you may need insulin to lower high blood sugar levels. If blood sugars are at dangerous levels, consider going to the hospital for medical management.
Protect Your Health in the Heat
If you have diabetes, taking extra precautions and care is important when outside in the summer heat. Managing sugar levels can be more difficult in the warmer months. Make sure to drink plenty of water, stay out of the sun whenever possible, and take extra precautions to protect diabetes supplies. Speak with your doctor about other ways to be diligent during the warmer season.