When summer is in full swing and scorching heat and smothering humidity are a daily possibility, those suffering from diabetes should be aware of how toasty temperatures can affect their condition. There are also certain diabetes-related considerations that are particularly important in the summer months as schedules shift and many people hit the road for vacation.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, and another 86 million adults have pre-diabetes, meaning their blood sugar levels are above normal.
Kaiser Permanente endocrinologist Emily Schroeder, MD, an investigator with the Kaiser Permanente Colorado Institute for Health Research, offers several tips for managing diabetes in the summer:
- Be aware of heat exhaustion: Certain diabetes complications, such as damage to blood vessels and nerves, can affect sweat glands and prevent your body from cooling as effectively as it should. The inability to stay cool can lead to heat exhaustion and heat stroke, both of which are medical emergencies and should be treated by a medical professional.
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate: People with diabetes tend to get dehydrated more quickly and must be sure to drink enough water, even when not thirsty. Dehydration can raise blood sugar, and high blood sugar can make you urinate more, worsening dehydration. Many people with diabetes also are taking medications such as diuretics that are dehydrating.
- Avoid sun damage: It is important to prevent sunburns, as they can stress your body and raise your blood glucose levels. A good rule of thumb is that if your shadow is shorter than you are, seek shade.
- Wear shoes at all times: People with diabetes should not go barefoot outdoors. It is best to wear shoes or sandals, even at the beach. Diabetes can lead to decreased circulation in the legs and nerve damage in the feet. This means that you may not be able to feel the hot pavement or sand, leading to burns. Small cuts and injuries also can lead to infections.
- Keep up your treatment routine: Summer is a busy time with vacations, kids out of school, and more outings to enjoy the warm weather — but don’t let a new schedule derail your treatment regimen. Set reminders to check your blood sugar no matter where you are or what you are doing.
- Protect your prescriptions: Some diabetes management medications, such as insulin, must be kept refrigerated to maintain their effectiveness. Be sure to plan ahead when traveling in the car for long periods of time by bringing along a cooler to keep medications cool.
Being vigilant and keeping these tips in mind can help avoid heat-related diabetes complications. However, be sure to seek medical treatment if you do find yourself experiencing any of these conditions.