Just because you have diabetes doesn't mean you can't enjoy your summer.
Summer is a great time to enjoy the outdoors, but hot weather and diabetes can present a unique challenge. In fact, the Mayo Clinic has reported that people with diabetes are more likely to be hospitalized for heat-related illnesses. While this might be startling, the good news is that the risk factors are manageable, and heat-related complications can be prevented.
About 60 to 70 percent of Americans with diabetes also have nerve damage that interferes with many parts of the body, including the proper function of sweat glands. If your sweat glands are impaired, your body can't always cool itself as effectively, meaning you can heat up quickly on hot days.
A few simple tips can help people with diabetes stay safe and healthy in the summer heat.
Anyone can get dehydrated if they don't drink enough water, but people with diabetes can become dehydrated more quickly. Dehydration contributes to high blood sugar levels, which in turn can increase urination, further perpetuating the cycle of dehydration.
Your best bet for staying healthy in the heat is to make sure you drink plenty of fluids, even when you're not thirsty. Opt for water, seltzer, and any sugar-free flavored beverages, and avoid alcohol, caffeine, and energy drinks.
Learn more tips to stay hydrated in hot weather.
The pain from a sunburn can increase stress, which can raise blood sugar levels. When you're in the sun, cover up with a hat, sunglasses, and loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing. Be sure to slather exposed skin with a broad spectrum sunscreen with at least an SPF 15 and reapply every two hours or after strenuous activity, heavy sweating, or swimming.
Nerve damage related to diabetes can also cause peripheral neuropathy, which can result in loss of feeling in the feet. Unnoticed cuts or wounds on the feet can lead to infection, so it's important to avoid going barefoot or wearing flimsy shoes like flip-flops that can expose your feet to injury or burns from hot pavement.
Plan Your Day
The sun is most powerful between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.—plan your day to avoid direct sunlight during that time, but don't let the heat throw you off your regular exercise schedule. Staying active is an important part of managing your diabetes, just be sure to plan outdoor activities for the early mornings or evenings when it's cooler.
Check Your Blood Sugar
Heat can cause unexpected fluctuations in blood sugar, so it's important to check your levels more often during the summer, especially if you're not feeling well. Remember that the heat can damage insulin and other diabetes medication and proper storage is key—keep them out of the heat and direct sunlight but don't put them in a freezer or on ice. If you're traveling, you can keep medications in a cooler or stored with an ice pack as long as the ice and insulin don't touch.
If you have diabetes and spend time outdoors in the summer, be on the lookout for symptoms of heat exhaustion, including dizziness, muscle cramps, rapid heartbeat, and nausea. If you experience any of these symptoms, seek shade, fluids, and medical attention.
Hot weather and diabetes can be a tricky combination, but with the right preventive measures, you can enjoy a happy and healthy summer.
By Joelle Klein
American Diabetes Association, Foot Complications
New York Times, Claim: Diabetes Makes You More Sensitive to Heat
Everday Health, Type 2 Diabetes and Summer: Tips to Beat the Heat
Diabetes Self Management, Diabetes in Hot Weather: 12 Things to Know
Mayo Clinic, Diabetes in Summer: How to Beat the Heat
Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Managing Diabetes in the Heat
Joslin Diabetes Center, Diabetes-Friendly Tips for Handling Summer Heat