The summer heat is rife with potential dangers that are specific to people with diabetes. If you have this condition, experts say you need to take special steps to keep your blood sugar at proper levels.
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“The most important thing to remember is that the stress of the heat can increase or decrease a diabetic’s blood sugar,” says endocrinologist Betul Hatipoglu, MD.
Dr. Hatipoglu offers these seven tips to help people with diabetes handle steamy summer days:
- Check blood glucose levels regularly. Knowing your sugar level is the best way to determine whether your insulin has gone bad or you have a malfunctioning pump. Check your blood sugar at least four times each day and more frequently if you are not feeling well.
- Exercise in air conditioning when it’s too hot. If the heat exceeds 85 degrees, exercise indoors where there is air conditioning. Sweating and dehydration are potentially more dangerous if you are diabetic, especially if you are on insulin therapy. Exercising outside earlier in the day or later in the evening, when the temperatures are cooler, also is helpful.
- Keep your insulin cool. “Insulin is a protein like an egg,” Dr. Hatipoglu says. “If you leave an egg outside, it will cook. So insulin pens or vials need protection in extreme weather, hot or cold.” If you are spending a day at the beach, for example, store your blood glucose meter, insulin and any injectable drugs for Type 2 diabetes in a cooler. Do not leave them in your closed car, where temperatures can exceed 120 degrees on a hot day. If you have any doubts about your insulin, get a new bottle or fresh pen.
- Be sure your insulin pump stays cool or covered. Insulin pumps are usually safe when against the body, but if you’re going somewhere on a day when temperatures exceed 100 degrees, be sure to cover it or use a cooling device to keep your insulin pump from malfunctioning.
- Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of electrolyte-balanced fluids such as sports drinks to replace what you are losing when perspiring. Be sure to take the sugar content of sports drinks into account, however.
- Watch for any signs of heat exhaustion. This is especially important if you are exercising or working outside. If you feel dizzy or faint, start sweating excessively, or if you develop headaches, cold or clammy skin, muscle cramps, rapid heartbeat or nausea, move to a cooler place, drink clear fluids and seek medical attention.
- Don’t forget common sense hot weather precautions. Be sure to drink a lot of water, apply sunscreen and wear sunglasses on hot, humid days.
Extra care for neuropathy
Exercise more care if you have autonomic neuropathy – damage to nerves that control involuntary bodily functions including heartbeat, blood pressure and perspiration.
“As much as possible, you should avoid being in temperatures higher than 85 to 90 degrees,” says Dr. Hatipoglu.
You should also wear shoes that sufficiently protect your feet. Increased sweating makes them more prone to yeast or fungal infections, blisters or open sores.
“If you have neuropathy and don’t feel the bottom of your feet, flip-flops or open shoes might not provide enough support or could expose you to injuries that increase the risk of ulcers, blisters and so on,” she says.
She says it’s important to pay attention to how you’re feeling when temperatures climb and to have a good plan in place to keep your blood sugar at a good level. If you don’t feel well, don’t hesitate to contact your doctor.