Andrea Hayes on a bike ride.

Tips for Effective Diabetes Management in the Summer Heat

Summer is a time for fun in the sun, but for people with diabetes, the rising temperatures can pose challenges in managing the condition effectively. Heat can impact blood sugar levels, insulin efficacy and overall diabetes care. It is important for people with diabetes to be aware of the potential risks associated with heat and take appropriate steps to protect their health during the hot months of summer.

The Impact of Heat on Diabetes Management

Managing diabetes requires careful monitoring of blood sugar levels, medication administration and lifestyle adjustments. However, high temperatures can interfere with these efforts in several ways:

  1. Dehydration: Heat can cause excessive sweating, leading to dehydration. Dehydration can cause blood sugar levels to rise, leading to hyperglycemia. Dehydration can also affect kidney function, leading to impaired insulin clearance from the body, which can further affect blood sugar levels.
  2. Heat-induced hypoglycemia (low blood sugar): While high temperatures can lead to hyperglycemia, they can also cause hypoglycemia. Heat can increase insulin absorption, leading to a rapid drop in blood sugar levels, especially if the individual is using rapid-acting insulin.
  3. Insulin degradation: Heat can degrade the potency of insulin, reducing its effectiveness in lowering blood sugar levels. Exposure to high temperatures can cause insulin to denature and lose its efficacy, making it less effective in managing diabetes.
  4. Reduced physical activity: Heat can make outdoor activities uncomfortable, causing some to skip their normal exercise routine. This is a mistake. Physical activity is crucial for managing blood sugar levels because it helps improve insulin sensitivity and promotes weight management.

Steps to Overcome Heat-related Challenges

To effectively manage diabetes during the hot months of summer, take the following steps:

  1. Stay hydrated: It is essential to drink plenty of water and other hydrating fluids, even if you do not feel thirsty. Avoid sugary beverages as they can affect blood sugar levels. Monitoring urine color can be a good indicator of hydration status; clear or light yellow urine indicates good hydration.
  2. Keep insulin cool: Insulin should be stored in a cool and dry place to prevent heat exposure. Avoid leaving insulin in direct sunlight or in a hot car. Insulin can be stored in a refrigerator, but it should not be frozen. If refrigeration is not available, consider using a cooling pouch or a Frio wallet that can keep insulin at a safe temperature.
  3. Test blood sugar levels regularly: Monitoring blood sugar levels regularly is crucial during the hot months to detect any fluctuations early. Adjust your medication doses, diet, and physical activity levels to help manage blood sugar levels.
  4. Dress appropriately: Wear light, loose-fitting, and breathable clothing to stay comfortable in hot weather. Consider wearing a hat and sunglasses to protect yourself from the sun.
  5. Take precautions during exercise: If you exercise outdoors, take extra precautions during hot weather. Consider exercising during cooler parts of the day, such as early morning or late evening. Stay hydrated, test blood sugar levels before and after exercise, and adjust medication doses as needed.
  6. Carry diabetes supplies: Always carry your diabetes supplies, including blood glucose meter, insulin, and snacks when you are out and about during the summer. Make sure to keep them in a cool and dry place.
  7. Communicate with your healthcare team: Consult with your healthcare team, including your endocrinologist or diabetes educator, for personalized advice on managing diabetes during the hot months of summer. They can provide guidance on medication adjustments, lifestyle modifications, and other strategies to help you manage diabetes effectively in the heat.
  8. Be aware of heat-related symptoms: It’s important to be vigilant about any heat-related symptoms that may indicate a medical emergency. These can include dizziness, nausea, rapid heartbeat, confusion, or signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke. If you experience any of these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.

Managing diabetes in the summer heat presents challenges that require extra precautions and some simple modifications. But you can do it. Stay proactive, vigilant, and take necessary steps to protect your health and enjoy a safe and healthy summer season!

A version of this post appeared in Health & Wellness magazine.