Summer brings hot weather, cool treats, and vacation time. While most people consider summer the most relaxing time of year, this season can be difficult for those with diabetes. If you have diabetes, it’s important to know how to manage your health as the heat rises.
Know the difference.
There are two types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. Type 1 occurs when a person’s immune system attacks the cells that release insulin, leaving no naturally-occurring insulin in the body. Type 1 diabetes is typically diagnosed at a very young age and cannot be prevented. Type 2 occurs when the body loses its ability to respond to insulin. Over time, the body produces more and more insulin in an attempt to compensate for its ineffectiveness. Eventually the body becomes unable to respond to the insulin at all (a condition known as insulin resistance). Symptoms of type 2 diabetes don’t usually show up until adulthood, and type 2 can often be prevented or managed with lifestyle changes. Regardless of which type of diabetes you or a loved one may have, extra challenges arise for both type 1 and type 2 patients during summer months. Fortunately, it doesn’t take too much planning ahead to stay cool and healthy while enjoying the sunny season.
Blame the heat and humidity
People with diabetes often experience complications that result in damage to their nerves and blood vessels. This damage can affect the functionality of their sweat glands, making it more difficult for the body to cool off in extreme heat. When the body isn’t able to properly cool itself, heat exhaustion or heat stroke become serious concerns. It’s important to manage your time outdoors wisely and always wear sunscreen and protective clothing to prevent overheating. Dehydration is also an issue for people with diabetes. High blood sugar can increase the risk of dehydration, so drinking enough water throughout the day during when it’s hot is imperative. “By the time you start noticing you’re thirsty, you may already be dehydrated,” explains Lankenau Medical Center endocrinologist Dr. Dina Green. “To prevent that, start drinking water even if you’re not thirsty yet. Pour yourself a glass in the morning or right before you’re ready to go outside for the day.”
Take care of your feet.
People with diabetes have to be extra vigilant about foot care during summer months. Although it may be appealing to leave your shoes behind and take a stroll outside, this can lead to serious injury. People with diabetes might not notice serious burns or cuts on the bottoms of their feet because of poor circulation or diabetic nerve damage. If you decide to indulge in some barefoot time, check your feet often, or recruit a family member or friend to do so. Frequent checks will allow you to treat any cuts or burns right away.
Pack your meds.
People with diabetes should always travel with their medications and testing equipment. If you need to bring insulin on the road, make sure you have a reliable cooler. Insulin must stay cool to prevent chemical breakdown. Also, never be afraid to ask your doctor for travel tips specific to your medications. “Patients with diabetes can easily travel with their equipment. If you’re going to be traveling with yours or you don’t know how to transport it, your endocrinologist can help you understand what you need and how to properly store it,” says Dr. Green.
Watch your absorption rate.
For individuals who use insulin shots, the summer may bring about a change in insulin absorption. High heat causes blood vessels to expand, allowing insulin to be absorbed faster than normal in the body. A faster absorption rate can result in a sudden drop in blood sugar. Physical activity also causes blood vessels to expand, so it’s important to be extra conscious of your blood sugar levels during summer workouts. If you’ve spent time out in the sun or doing any strenuous activity, it’s best to cool off inside for 15 to 20 minutes before injecting any insulin. This will give your body a chance to regulate its temperature. With just a little care, people with diabetes can have just as much fun in the sun as anyone else and stay safe doing it.