Patient Blogs | Type 2 Diabetes
How I Keep My Diabetes in Check When It’s Hot Outside
photo of young woman cooling down with cold water

It’s Hot!

Today the temperatures in the upper northwest of the U.S. are breaking records; where I live in Philadelphia, we hit 98 (feels like 1,000) last week. Wildfires from the high temps have crossed Portugal and Spain, and Britain recently suffered an unbelievable 107 degrees that melted the asphalt at Heathrow airport.  

What does this year’s scorching summer have to do with diabetes? Turns out, quite a lot.

For one thing, people with diabetes -- both type 1 and type 2 -- may feel the heat more intensely than those without the condition. Some reasons include:

People with diabetes may have blood vessel and nerve damage, both of which can affect sweat glands, making it difficult for your body to cool effectively. If your biological cooling system goes on the blink, heat exhaustion and heat stroke can follow -- both are serious health emergencies.

People with diabetes tend to dehydrate quickly.  A lack of fluids can raise your blood sugar, prompting the body to expel more urine, which increases dehydration. In addition, diuretics, or water pills, to treat high blood pressure can drain the body of fluids.

Soaring temperatures can impact how your body processes insulin. If you’re on insulin, a heat wave may spell extra monitoring of blood sugar and changing your insulin dosages and food intake.

And as the old saying goes: It’s not only the heat, but also the humidity.

Even if the temperatures go down a few ticks, the combination of heat and humidity can present additional problems. Normally, sweat evaporates on the skin, removing heat and cooling us down. But if the humidity is high, moisture on the skin can't dry, short-circuiting the cooling cycle.

So, if you’re taking a run or hanging by a pool or on the beach, keep track of the heat index -- a measure of heat plus humidity. If it hits 80 degrees in the shade with 40% or above humidity, head for somewhere cooler. The heat index can be up to 15 degrees higher in full sunlight, so stay in the shade if the weather warms up.

And while exercise is vital for good diabetes management, forget getting your steps in during the hottest part of the day or when the heat index soars. Although it once was good advice to exercise first thing in the morning or in the evening, night-time temperatures are no longer falling as quickly as they once did, so consider working out early in the day. Or you could head to an air-conditioned gym.  

To stay on top of your diabetes during a heat wave, follow these tips:

  • Drink plenty of water, even if you don’t feel thirsty.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks which can be dehydrating and spike blood glucose levels.
  • Check your blood sugar before, during, and after you’re active. If you use insulin, you may need to change how much insulin you use. Consult your doctor if you have questions.
  • Wear a broad-brimmed hat and sunscreen when you head outdoors. Avoids sunburns which can cause higher blood sugar levels.
  • Don’t go barefoot, even at a pool or the beach.
  • Choose an air-conditioned space on hot days; in high heat, a fan will not provide enough cooling.
  • Keep medicines, supplies, and equipment out of the heat.
  • Wear light, loose, breathable clothing. Cotton and linen are best.
  • Call your doctor if you develop a heat-related illness.
  • Make a backup plan if you lose power.
  • Prepare a “go bag” with your diabetes supplies, snacks, and other emergency needs in case of sudden weather or power emergencies.




Photo Credit: SimpleImages / Moment via Getty Images

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Ilene Raymond Rush

Ilene Raymond Rush

Diagnosed since 1984

Ilene Raymond Rush is an award-winning health and science freelance writer. Based on her own experiences with type 2 diabetes, she brings a personal take and a reporter’s eye to examine the best and newest methods of treating and controlling the disease.

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