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Managing Your Diabetes in the Summer Heat
Since the beginning of March, the Capital Region and the rest of New York, has been in quarantine (during cold rainy weather, we might add), practicing social distancing and wearing a mask to help slow the coronavirus spread. Now with the change of seasons and warmer temperatures, Summer might make you smile from ear to ear. Being able to follow safety guidelines outdoors while enjoying the beautiful sunny weather is much better than what we had to do initially. However, if you have diabetes, you may not be feeling as excited as the rest because you are especially sensitive to the hot weather of summer. Learn how you can keep your cool during the hottest time of the year.
Diabetes vs. the Heat
Did you know that people who have diabetes — both type 1 and type 2 — feel more heat than people who don't have diabetes? Here's why…
• Certain diabetes complications, such as damage to blood vessels and nerves, can affect your sweat glands so your body can't cool as effectively. That can lead to heat exhaustion and heat stroke, which is a medical emergency.
• People with diabetes get dehydrated more quickly. Not drinking enough liquids can raise blood sugar, and high blood sugar can make you urinate more, causing dehydration. Some commonly used medicines like diuretics, a.k.a. water pills used to treat high blood pressure, can dehydrate you.
• High temperatures can change how your body uses insulin. You may need to test your blood sugar more often and adjust your insulin dose and what you eat and drink.
Heat & Humidity DON'T go together like PB & J
Even when it doesn't seem very hot outside, the combination of heat and humidity can be dangerous. When sweat evaporates on your skin, it removes heat and cools you. It's harder to stay cool in high humidity because perspiration can't evaporate as well.
Whether you're working out or just hanging out, it's a good idea to check the heat index, which combines temperature and humidity. Take steps to stay cool when it reaches 80°F in the shade with 40% humidity or above. Tip: The heat index can be up to 15°F higher in full sunlight, so stick to the shade when the weather warms up.
Physical activity is key to managing diabetes, but don't get active outdoors during the hottest part of the day or when the heat index is high. Get out early in the morning or during the evening when temperatures are lower or try to work out inside where there is plenty of air-conditioning. You can find a variety of resources online to help get you started with at home exercises.
Your Summer To-Do List
• Drink plenty of water.
• Test your blood sugar often.
• Keep medicines, supplies, and equipment out of the heat.
• Stay inside in air-conditioning when it's hottest.
• Wear loose, light clothing.
• Get medical attention for heat-related illnesses.
• Make a plan in case you lose power.
• Have a go-bag ready for emergencies.
Your Blood Sugar Knows Best
Kids are home for the summer, planning vacations or get-togethers with close family and friends –– all while staying 6 feet away, of course. We understand the summer season can throw off your routine, and possibly your diabetes management plan. Check your blood sugar more often to make sure it's in your target range no matter what the summer brings. It's especially important to recognize what low blood sugar feels like and treat it as soon as possible.
Play it safe in the sun with a hat and sunglasses. Here is a little "warm-weather wisdom":
• Drink plenty of water—even if you're not thirsty—so you don't get dehydrated.
• Avoid alcohol and drinks with caffeine, like coffee and energy or sports drinks. They can lead to water loss and spike your blood sugar levels.
• Check your blood sugar before, during, and after you're active. You may need to change how much insulin you use. Ask your doctor if you would like help in adjusting your dosage.
• Wear loose-fitting, lightweight, light-colored clothing.
• Wear sunscreen and a hat when you're outside. Sunburn can raise your blood sugar levels.
• Don't go barefoot, even on the beach or at the pool.
• Use your air conditioner or go to an air-conditioned building or mall to stay cool. In very high heat, a room fan won't cool you enough.
Too Hot to Handle (Your Medicine)
Know what else feels the heat? Diabetes medicines, supplies, and equipment:
• Don't store insulin or oral diabetes medicine in direct sunlight or in a hot car. Check package information about how high temperatures can affect insulin and other medicines.
• If you're traveling, keep insulin and other medication in a cooler. Don't put insulin directly on ice or on a gel pack.
• Heat can damage your blood sugar monitor, insulin pump, and other diabetes equipment. Don't leave them in a hot car, by a pool, in direct sunlight, or on the beach. The same goes for supplies such as test strips.
But don't let the summer heat stop you from taking your diabetes medicine and supplies with you when you're out and about. You'll need to be able to test your blood sugar and take steps if it's too high or too low. Just make sure to protect your diabetes gear from the heat.
The beginning of June marked the beginning of the hurricane season. Severe thunderstorms with hail, high winds, and tornadoes are more likely in warm weather, too. People with diabetes face extra challenges if a strong storm knocks out the power or if they have to seek shelter away from home. Plan how you'll handle medicine that needs refrigeration, such as insulin. And be prepared by packing an emergency go-bag—a supply kit you can grab quickly, in the event you need to leave your home.
For now, here's to staying cool, staying safe, and enjoying the long days of Summer!
At Community Care, The Patient Education and Wellness Program helps our patients achieve and maintain a healthy lifestyle by following four key elements: weight management, medical nutrition therapy, diabetes education, and LIFE group classes. Our Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialists, including Laurie Burton-Grego, Cathy Dascher, and Lisbeth Irish, teach our Diabetes Self-Management Education and Support Services. They give our patients the knowledge and skills needed for optimal diabetes self-care while also incorporating the patient's personal needs, goals, and life experiences. For more information or to make an appointment, please call (518) 713-5347.
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