Summer heat can pose challenges for people with diabetes
The summer heat and humidity can wreak havoc on the body’s cooling system. But for people with diabetes, it presents additional challenges. Research shows that when temperatures climb to 90-plus degrees, more people with diabetes end up in the emergency room and are hospitalized because of heat illness.
Why? There are several ways heat and humidity affect diabetes.
Compromised ability to sweat
Normally, the body cools itself off via evaporation – air removes the moisture from your skin as you sweat. However, diabetes can hinder the ability to sweat, making some people with disease more likely to suffer from heat exhaustion.
Introduce humidity and the problem is exacerbated. When humidity is high, the air is already full of water, and sweat, unable to evaporate, doesn’t cool the body as effectively, further increasing the risk of heat illnesses.
If a person with diabetes becomes dehydrated, their blood glucose levels will rise. This can lead to frequent urination, which can lead to a vicious cycle of further dehydration and even higher blood sugar levels. Dehydration also reduces blood supply to the skin, which can inhibit absorption of injected insulin dosage.
Effects of sunburn can be cause for concern, too. It can cause inflammation, which in turn may result in increased insulin resistance. Heat and sunburn both place additional stress or the body, which raises blood sugar levels.
High temperatures can affect test strip accuracy and also damage medication, insulin pumps, other equipment.
Once a person with diabetes experiences out-of-control numbers or heat exhaustion, it can be difficult to get glucose levels back under control. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people with diabetes, particularly those living with type 2 diabetes, exercise caution when the heat index — which combines temperature and humidity readings — reaches 80 degrees Fahrenheit with 40 percent humidity.
Here are some tips to help manage diabetes and stay safe this summer:
- Be aware. Know the signs of heat-related illness (dizziness, fainting, excessive thirst or excessive sweating) and how to respond to symptoms.
- Carry medications while you're away from home.
- Drink plenty of caffeine-free fluids, especially water, to avoid dehydration. Don't wait until you’re thirsty, it's a sign you're already dehydrated. Avoid sugar-sweetened and alcoholic drinks.
- If possible, exercise in air-conditioning or do in the late in the evening or early morning when it’s cooler outside.
- Check glucose meter and test strip packages for information on use and safe storage during times of high heat and humidity. Consider using cool packs and don't leave a disconnected pump or supplies in a hot car or in the direct sun.
- Wear loose-fitting, lightweight, and light-colored clothing.
- Avoid sunburn. Wear a good sunscreen, sunglasses and hat when out in the sun.
- Check blood sugar levels frequently, since they may fluctuate.
- Always wear identification that says you have diabetes.
With a little preparation and raised awareness, people with diabetes can safely participate in activities and enjoy their summer.