Special to Iredell Free News
Summertime is fun, but keeping your cool in the hot, humid weather can be more difficult for some than others. Those with diabetes actually feel the heat more than those without, making this season especially challenging.
There are several reasons why people with diabetes are more sensitive to high temperatures and humidity. One is that people with diabetes get dehydrated more quickly, which makes it harder to keep blood sugar levels under control.
“As the weather heats up, we’re all going to sweat a little bit more, and people with diabetes have more of a risk for dehydration, which can shift blood sugars,” said Amy Brant, corporate wellness nurse and program manager at the Iredell Wellness & Diabetes Center.
Brant offers a few tips for keeping your diabetes in check all summer long:
Drink plenty of fluids
Drinking plenty of fluids, even if you’re not thirsty, during the summer heat is very important for those with diabetes. Not drinking enough water can raise your blood sugar, and high blood sugar can make you urinate more, causing dehydration.
“You can lose a lot of fluid through urination and sweating. If you’re not putting that fluid back in, it can put you at risk for elevated blood sugars,” said Brant.
To stay hydrated, try to avoid alcohol and drinks with caffeine. If you do not enjoy the taste of water, Brant recommends freezing fresh fruit, like strawberries and pineapple, and using that as the ice cubes in your water. As the ice melts, it will infuse some fruit flavor into your water.
“A lot of people think they should drink Gatorade or Powerade because of the electrolytes. But if you are diabetic, make sure you go for the sugar-free options,” said Brant.
Test your blood sugar frequently
High temperatures can change how your body uses insulin, possibly resulting in blood sugar highs or lows. To stay on track, you should test your blood sugar more often.
“You should try to check your blood sugar one or two more times throughout the day. Especially if you are starting to feel weak from the sun, it’s just a good idea to check and see how your blood sugar is doing,” said Brant.
Brant recommends always keeping a snack with you to treat low blood sugar levels.
“Sunburns can actually increase blood sugar because it causes a stress response in the body. It can also increase dehydration,” said Brant.
To protect yourself from the sun, wear sunscreen with at least 30 SPF. You should also wear loose-fitting, light-colored clothes, UV-protected sunglasses, and a wide-brimmed hat.
Monitor the heat index
If you live in North Carolina, you’re probably familiar with the high humidity levels. When you sweat, it evaporates on your skin and cools you down. However, when the humidity is high, your sweat does not evaporate as quickly, which keeps your body from releasing heat as fast as it may need.
Additionally, people with diabetes may have nerve and blood vessel problems that make it even harder for the body to cool down through sweating. This can raise your risk for heat illnesses like heat exhaustion and heatstroke.
It’s a good idea to check the heat index, which is a measurement that combines temperature and humidity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you should take steps to stay cool when the heat index reaches 80°F with 40% humidity or above. The heat index can be up to 15°F higher in full sunlight, so stick to the shade when the weather warms up.
Physical activity is key to managing diabetes. But, if the heat index is high, make sure to exercise when it’s cooler out, like mornings or evenings, or take a walk inside.
“If you’re on the beach, you may not want to wear anything on your feet. But if you have any sort of nerve damage, you may step on something and not realize it, or you may not be able to accurately judge the temperature of the sand,” said Brant.
If you have diabetes, it’s always a good idea to wear shoes to protect the bottom of your feet, especially at the beach.
Protect your medications
Did you know heat can weaken insulin? Test strips and insulin pumps can also be heat-sensitive.
“If you carry insulin, make sure it is protected from the heat. Keep it in an insulated cooler,” said Brant.
Never store insulin, glucose meters, or other supplies in direct sunlight or in the trunk of a car. If you are traveling, keep your insulin in a cooler, but don’t pile ice packs directly on top of it.
Summer can be challenging for people living with diabetes, but by being proactive and following these tips, you can stay safe and healthy. Make sure to talk to your primary care provider about any additional safeguards that may be needed.
To make an appointment with Amy Brant at the Iredell Wellness and Diabetes Center, speak to your primary care provider about a referral. You can also call the diabetes center directly at 704-878-4556 and request they contact your provider.
About Iredell Health System
Iredell Health System includes Iredell Memorial Hospital; Iredell Mooresville; two urgent care centers; Iredell Home Health; Iredell Wound Care & Hyperbaric Center; Community and Corporate Wellness; Occupational Medicine; the Iredell Physician Network and more. Iredell Memorial Hospital is the largest and only nonprofit hospital in Iredell County. The comprehensive healthcare facility has 247 beds; more than 1,800 employees; and has 260 physicians representing various specialties. Centers of excellence include Women’s and Children’s; Cardiovascular; Cancer; Surgical Services and Wellness & Prevention. The Health System’s second campus, Iredell Mooresville, is home to the area’s only 24-hour urgent care facility, as well as an ambulatory surgery center, imaging center, rehabilitation services, and physician practices. The mission of Iredell Health System is to inspire wellbeing. For a comprehensive list of services and programs, visit www.iredellhealth.org.