Daily diabetes management is constant in the lives of the 23 million Americans affected by this disease. During the summer season, individuals living with diabetes can experience a rise in adverse symptoms and/or reactions, such as uncontrolled glucose (sugar) levels, due to the innate sensitivity of the disease to extreme environmental temperatures. The three main factors to be vigilant of in high heat conditions are: hydration, physical activity, and fluctuating glucose levels.
Hydration may seem trivial, during the summer, however, it can be life saving when experiencing perspiration in high heat conditions. Perspiration (loss of bodily fluid) is a natural mechanism that can be impaired in diabetics, due to possible inefficiencies of the body temperature to cool.
A diabetic individual experiencing excess loss of body fluid can easily enter a dehydration cycle, this includes water loss due to environment and/or physical activity without replenishment, a decrease in proper absorption of injected insulin, an increase in blood glucose levels, and continued fluid loss in the form of urination. In order to offset some of the fluid loss due to sweating, individuals should practice proper fluid replenishment even when thirst is not felt, and maintain body temperature cool by limiting exposure to direct sunlight. Opt for water or sugar-free drinks while avoiding diuretics (alcohol and caffeine).
Physical activity is imperative in managing blood glucose levels. A set routine should be continued during the summer season with some constraints. If electing to engage in outdoor physical activities, avoid high temperatures by exercising in the early morning or evening. If timing is a constraint, well-ventilated and air-conditioned facilities should be used. A blood glucose check before, during, and after physical activity can provide a baseline for future exercise planning in warmer weather.
The functionality of blood glucose monitoring equipment can be compromised if exposed to extreme temperatures. In order to effectively control and monitor glucose levels, ensure glucose meter, test strips, and any other necessary items are stored in a cool and dry place at all times. Never place insulin directly on an extreme temperature surface (ice pack or car glove compartment), this disrupts the integrity of the medicine.
If spending extended periods of time outdoors, it is suggested to wear breathable and light-colored clothing to aid in body temperature control. Diabetic individuals should aim to cover as many body parts as possible by electing to wear hats, sunglasses, and proper footwear. Always wear sunscreen in areas that are not covered to avoid heat trauma to the skin. If unprotected skin is exposed to direct sunlight and a burn occurs, fluctuating blood sugar levels can be experienced as the body undergoes the stress of healing.
One thing to note is the similarities between experiencing heat exhaustion and fluctuation of blood sugar levels. Symptoms include: dizziness, excessive sweating, increased heart rate, blurred vision, muscle cramps, and nausea. Experiencing any combination of the previously mentioned symptoms can be minimized by being cautious when engaging in outdoor activities during summer days, continuing routine food and water consumption, and frequently monitoring blood sugar levels. If these symptoms arise, find a cool place to stabilize and seek medical attention immediately.
Check in with a primary care provider with any questions or concerns regarding adjustments to insulin dosage, or physical activity in high temperature settings.
· Stay Hydrated
· Keep blood glucose monitoring supplies in a dry and cool place
· Wear light and breathable clothing
· Always use sunscreen when spending time in direct sunlight
· Increase number of blood glucose levels checks per day
· Exercise in cool temperature or air-conditioned settings
· If experiencing any symptoms of heat exhaustion or uncontrolled sugar levels, seek medical attention immediately