It is and has been a hot summer. One of the hottest in Northern Europe for decades and it seems to continue with heat waves in Southern Europe and sunny days all over the map. As someone with diabetes, you may have noticed that your blood sugar is more difficult to regulate. It’s not just something you feel. The summer heat affects both your diabetes medicine and blood sugar levels.
With the hot summer weather we’ve had (and seems to continue to have) in Europe, there are some precautions to take for us with diabetes to stay regulated and healthy.
Everyone has to protect themselves during warm summer days with the hot sun blaring. However, as with so many other things, there are some additional factors that people with diabetes have to be aware of.
Extreme Summer Heat Affects Your Blood Sugar Levels
First of all, the warm temperatures affect your blood glucose levels. How depends on what you eat, how much you drink and how active you are. For example, if you’re very active in the heat, you might sweat profusely leading to dehydration and thereby a rise in your BG.
On top of that, our habits change during the hot summer days. We tend to drink more alcohol during the summer, which also affects your blood glucose levels and thereby your insulin needs. Alcoholic drinks usually contain a lot of sugar, which can cause your blood sugar levels to spike and since the liver works twice as hard when you are drinking it will affect your liver’s ability to counter-regulate if your blood sugar goes low.
If your treatment includes insulin and you become dehydrated, the blood supply to your skin is reduced, which leads to less absorption of your injected insulin dosage. Essentially making it less effective.
The same is true the other way around. If you’re nicely hydrated, the heat will increase the blood circulation under your skin which causes the insulin to be adopted faster. This gives a stronger short-term effect and a weaker long-term effect, which might be the reason why some experience low blood sugar and others high.
That’s another reason to keep a closer eye on your BG in the heat of the summer.
What to do about it?
1) Stay Hydrated!
This is good advice even for people without diabetes, but it’s extra important for us since the lack of water in our system can send us into a vicious cycle. Dehydration leads to high BG which leads to more frequent toilet visits, which leads to even higher BG etc. In extreme cases, it can cause fainting and worst case death if it’s not treated in time.
Keep a bottle of water with you at all times – potentially set goals for yourself throughout the day such as: “Before lunch, I have to have finished three glasses of water” or “By 3 pm I must have refilled my bottle four times”. You know you drink enough when your urine gets lighter so keep an eye on it during toilet visits. If you don’t go to the toilet, odds are that you don’t drink enough.
If you’re extra active, we suggest that you also carry electrolyte or salted nuts and fruits with you to quickly rehydrate in case of an emergency. The easiest and healthiest way is to just drink plenty of water.
2) Avoid Sunburn
Sunburn stresses your body and can raise your BG levels – just like when you get a fever. Use a high SPF sunscreen, wear a hat and sunglasses and stay out of the sun during the midday hours.
3) Cool Down
Take a cooling dip in the sea, or seek refuge in the shade. Grab a cold shower and drink cold water. Be aware that just like your warm skin will increase blood circulation, when you cool down it decreases blood circulation under the skin, which affects the long and short-term insulin effect.
4) Keep More Low Blood Sugar Treats with You
Have a few extra of your favorite BG snacks with you when you venture out and about. Or better yet – instead of packing an extra chocolate bar, pack extra juice boxes. This will help to keep you hydrated at the same time.
5) Test Your BG Frequently
The hot temperatures can cause your blood sugar levels to fluctuate, which is why it’s a good idea to test more frequently than usual to stay stable. This way you can treat the fluctuations in a timely matter. It’s also a good idea to use an app (such as Hedia) to keep track of your BG over time.
6) Make Insulin Adjustments Appropriately
If you’re on insulin treatment, ask your doctor or diabetes professional how you need to adjust insulin according to the heat. This is individual and it’s a good idea to have some notes prepared to show how YOUR blood sugar is affected by the heat.
The Summer Heat Affects Your Insulin
If you’re on insulin treatment, your medicine can turn bad in the heat. Normally your unopened insulin has to be kept in the fridge and at “room temperature” (below 30o) after you’ve opened it. However, when the temperatures rise above 30-35o or higher, it’s a good idea to keep it cool.
What to do about it?
Protect Your Medication and Diabetes Supplies
If you’re wearing an insulin pump, be aware that the insulin may lose some effectiveness in the heat. Measure your BG more often to adjust accordingly.
For Pen Users
For those of you who use a pen, it’s a good idea to keep your medicine in a cold place such as a cooling bag or even a thermal cup. Just be careful it’s not kept too cold (such as close to the freezing element).
For Your Test Strips
If your test strips get overheated, they can stop working as well. Make sure they’re kept in a cool place, and replace them if they’ve been exposed to too much heat.
Keep a bottle of water in the freezer – you can use that as a cooling element when you go out and about during the day, and as it melts, you can refresh and keep hydrated with it at the same time.
Please remember, that we are not doctors and can only guide you based on our own experience. Talk to your diabetes professional before taking any radical measures or making any major changes.
If you’re going abroad or on a shorter trip, we’ve gathered specific tips for travelling with diabetes right here. If you’d like more diabetes tips and tricks in the future, sign up for our newsletter below.