Updated 11th May 2020
During the summer months, your activity ramps up but your body just wants to take it easy. You’re suddenly out with friends or family in the heat, while also just wanting to enjoy the warmth by lying out in the sun with a book.
How your body responds to the heat is partly due to diabetes. It’s not just something you feel; it’s physical, too. The summer heat affects both your diabetes medicine and blood sugar levels.
When summer is around the corner, there are some precautions to take for those with diabetes to stay in check and healthy.
Everyone has to protect themselves during warm summer days with the sun blaring. However, as with so many other things, there are some additional factors that people with diabetes have to be aware of.
Effect of heat and Diabetes on Blood Sugar
First of all, the warm temperatures affect your blood sugar levels. The extent to which heat and diabetes are affected depends on different factors: 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, leading to dehydration and thereby a rise in your blood sugar. The lack of water in the system can send you into a vicious cycle. Dehydration leads to high blood sugar, which leads to more frequent toilet visits, which lead to even higher blood sugar, and so on. In extreme cases, it can cause fainting and comas if it’s not treated in time.
On top of that, our habits change during the hot summer days. We tend to drink more alcohol during the summer, which also affects blood sugar levels and, thereby, insulin needs.
When it comes to diabetes and alcohol, it’s worth being aware of the sugar in alcoholic drinks: it can cause your blood sugar levels to spike. 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. This essentially makes insulin less effective.
The same is true in reverse. If you’re well-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 blood sugar in the heat of the summer.
What to do about it:
1) Stay Hydrated!
Keep a bottle of water with you at all times. You could even try to set goals for yourself throughout the day such as: “before lunch, I need to finish three glasses of water” or “by 3 pm I must refill 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 blood sugar levels – just like when you have diabetes and the flu. Use a high Sun Protection Factor sunscreen, wear a hat and sunglasses and stay out of the sun during the midday hours.
3) Cool down
Seek refuge in the shade; have a cold shower; grab a cold drink; take a cooling dip in the sea (and remember to reapply sunscreen afterwards). Just as how your warm skin will increase blood circulation, when you cool down, it decreases blood circulation under the skin. This affects the long and short-term insulin effect.
4) Keep more low Blood Sugar Treats with you
Have a few extra of your blood-sugar-raising 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.
For further ideas for other low blood sugar treats, take a look at How to fix low Blood Sugar.
5) Test your Blood Sugar 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 in order to stay stable. This way you can treat the fluctuations in a timely matter.
It’s also a good idea to use an app to keep track of your blood sugar over time, such as Hedia’s diabetes tracker, which shows a graph of recent blood sugar entries.
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.
How does heat Affect Diabetes and 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. After, you’ve started using it, it should be kept at room temperature.
However, according to Diabetes UK, insulin shouldn’t be kept at temperatures higher than 25°C or 77°F. So, when the heat rises above those temperatures, 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.
So that’s how to deal with heat and Diabetes!
We hope that Hedia’s heat experience has guided you through heat and diabetes. But do talk to your diabetes professional before taking any radical measures or making any major changes.
And, if you’re going abroad or on a shorter trip, we’ve gathered specific tips for travel with diabetes.
Related post: How to keep Blood Sugar Stable