We often look forward to changes of season, as the flowers bloom and sun shines. However, if you have diabetes, you need to be extra careful when temperatures begin to climb dramatically. Extreme heat can have a potentially detrimental effect on your blood sugar control. Moreover, the extreme heat of the summer also has the potential to damage your medications and testing equipment. Whether your summer is around the corner or with you year-round, there are a few factors you should consider to keep your diabetes symptoms in control and to keep the blistering heat from having any undesirable effect on your health.
How the Heat can Affect You
The extreme heat of summer affects blood sugar levels. How the heat affects your levels depends on what you’ve eaten, whether you’re well-hydrated and your activity level.
If the heat and your activity make you sweat profusely, you may become dehydrated, leading to a rise in glucose levels.
If you become dehydrated, your blood glucose levels will rise. This can lead to frequent urination, which then leads to further dehydration and even higher blood sugar levels — an unpleasant cycle. Luckily, this cycle can be avoided with a few easy tips to ensure you remain hydrated and your blood sugar levels remain at a healthy level.
Tips for Managing Your Blood Sugar
Follow these tips to help manage your diabetes while enjoying the outdoors and tolerating the heat:
- Drink plenty of water – Staying hydrated is important for all people during physical activity, but it’s especially critical for people with diabetes. Avoid dehydration by carrying small bottles of water or electrolyte replenishing sports drinks in a backpack or on a belt while hiking, engaging in sports, or just spending time outside in the heat.
- Make insulin adjustments as needed – Ask your provider and diabetes educator how you should adjust insulin prior to exercising. Typically, discussion during the first few visits focuses on urgent issues, such as getting diabetes under control. Ask about insulin adjustments so you can be prepared for exercise and summer heat.
- Test your blood sugars levels frequently – Since very hot temperatures can cause levels to fluctuate, it’s a good idea to test more frequently than usual. Doing so will allow you to take appropriate and immediate action to keep your levels more stable. Frequent monitoring should extend for several hours after the end of physical activity or after a day in the heat.
- Keep items to treat low blood sugars with you – This includes glucose tabs or glucose gel. If you are at high risk for very low blood sugars (if you frequently have low blood sugar or had very low blood sugar previously), you should also have a glucagon kit available.
- Bring some snack with you – Some snacks can serve as a meal replacement. Others can serve as ways to prevent low blood sugars. Discuss possible options with a nutritionist.
- Protect your medication and supplies – Take proactive steps to protect your insulin, glucagon kit and other supplies before you head outdoors, regardless of the temperature.
- Avoid sunburn – You can get sunburned while skiing on the slopes, hiking in the park, or simply sitting out on your porch. Sunburn stresses your body and can raise blood sugar levels. Use a broad spectrum sunscreen and wear protective eye gear to protect against it.
Finally, use common sense when engaging in outdoor activities. While you certainly don’t want to lock yourself inside during the peak winter or summer months, try to spend your time outdoors during the months with more moderate temperatures. By taking a few precautions, you can enjoy an active, healthy lifestyle in most any weather.