Managing Type 2 diabetes in hot weather

Managing Type 2 diabetes in hot weather

August, 2017

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The heat is on: Type 2 diabetes in the summer

Does the heat affect my blood glucose levels?

Short answer – we don’t know. So far, there haven’t been any proper scientific studies in people with diabetes about this specific subject, so it remains unknown what effect hot weather has directly on blood glucose. However, the kind of things we do when it’s hot CAN have an effect on blood glucose. On top of that, when it’s hot we are all at a higher risk of becoming dehydrated, and dehydration can also affect blood glucose.

Here’s our quick guide to staying healthy when the weather heats up:

Drink enough water

When you don’t take in enough fluids you can get dehydrated, and that’s bad news for everyone, whether or not you have Type 2 diabetes. Where Type 2 diabetes does make a difference, though, is in how likely you are to become dehydrated. When you have high blood glucose levels, your kidneys try to flush out the extra glucose through urine. This means you’re losing water as well as sugar.

The heat will make you thirsty, but when you have Type 2 diabetes you’ll need to be a little bit more careful about what you drink to quench that thirst. It’s so easy to reach for something cool and refreshing like a fruit punch or traditional lemonade, but of course they’re full of sugar. The best thing for staying hydrated is good old water – you can always have it sparkling, and/or with a slice of lime and a few ice-cubes to make it more interesting.

Go easy on the ice-creams…

When it’s baking outside all you want is something ice-cold, but the majority of frozen treats are packed full of sugar. Even some “healthier” versions are still full of sugar: a frozen yoghurt lolly might sound like a better option than the classic ice-cream cone, but they can still contain a lot of sugar. You could try crushing ice cubes and adding a chopped cucumber for a refreshing alternative.

…and the booze

The higher the alcohol-by-volume (ABV) content of your chosen tipple, the more it is likely to dehydrate you. Strong drinks are also likely to impair your judgement and make your heart have to work harder.

That’s not to say you can’t ever sit in a pub garden ever again and enjoy a pint, it just means you’ll be wise to have plenty of water as well, and find a shady spot. Bear in mind that alcohol can affect your blood glucose as well – some drinks like lager contain carbohydrates which can raise your blood glucose, while drinking a lot of alcohol can actually make your blood glucose fall too low.

Cover up and find some shade

This is good advice for everyone, not just people with Type 2 diabetes. Getting sunburnt can increase your chances of developing skin problems over time, such as skin cancers. Sometimes it’s hard to tell that you are getting burned until it’s too late – you don’t necessarily have to feel hot to have burned skin. A breeze or a dip in the pool can make you feel cooler so you don’t realise you’re burning. Protect your skin by covering up and staying in shaded areas. [NHSS, NHSS2]

It might also be a good idea to stay indoors during the hottest times of the day, and venture out in the cooler hours first thing in the morning, or later in the evening.

Use sun cream

Think you don’t need sun cream? Think again. A lot of people can’t be bothered with it, or have never used it and don’t see why they should start now, or think they are protected because they already have tanned, brown or black skin. It’s true that people with paler skin are most likely to burn and get other problems from over-exposure to the sun – but just because you don’t burn easily, it doesn’t stop you getting skin damage. In fact the British Association of Dermatologists (BAD) say that, “A tan is actually a sign that skin has been damaged and is trying to protect itself.”

Read more about what BAD say about sun damage.

When using sun cream it’s important to use plenty, and top it up regularly – one thin coat won’t do you for the rest of the day, you need to be generous with it.

Know the signs of heat exhaustion

Heat exhaustion can make you feel really quite ill, and if it’s not treated properly and in good time, it can become serious. Symptoms include:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling sick and being sick
  • Tiredness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Stomach cramps
  • Pale skin

A number of these symptoms overlap with symptoms of very high or very low blood glucose, so it’s important to be vigilant. If you have a blood glucose meter, it would be a good idea to test yourself if you experience any of the symptoms above.

Heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke if you don’t cool down. Heat stroke needs urgent medical attention. Signs of heat stroke include:

  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Rapid breathing
  • Convulsions, all of which require immediate medical attention.
Keep an eye on your activity levels

Tricky one, this. You do need to get some exercise, and lying around on a sun lounger all day isn’t going to do your fitness or your blood glucose levels any good. But it’s important not to over-do it. Exercising or doing outdoor activities like gardening in hot weather can make you sweat a lot, and also make your heart work extra hard – both of which can quickly exhaust you.

You can leave your shoes on

If you have Type 2 diabetes, you are at a higher risk of developing peripheral neuropathy, a condition where your nerves become damaged. If you have peripheral neuropathy, you might not be able to feel if your feet are burning, so it’s a good idea to remember to put on a high-factor sun cream and wear shoes, sandals or flip-flops on hot ground.

Look after your glucose monitoring kit

If you have a glucose monitor, you’ll need to take extra care with it when the weather’s very hot or cold. Extremes of temperatures can affect how accurate the readings will be. Try to keep your test strips and monitor at a normal room temperature (that’s usually in the low 20s Celcius/ high 60s to low 70s Farenheit), away from direct sunlight and where it’s fairly dry (e.g. living room or bedroom rather than bathroom or steamed-up kitchen), as humidity can also give you false readings.

Top tips for insulin users when the weather’s hot

Not everyone with Type 2 diabetes will need insulin, but if you DO use insulin, you’ll need to be a little bit savvy when the weather’s hot. There are two key things to bear in mind:

  • Insulin is absorbed more quickly when you’re hot. This can lead to hypos. Talk to your doctor or nurse about monitoring your dose and keeping an eye on your blood sugar
  • Insulin can be damaged by heat. This is why it’s generally stored in a fridge. Before using insulin, check for signs of heat damage. These include insulin that is:
    • Cloudy
    • Grainy
    • Sticks to the side of the glass
    • Brownish in colour

If you see any of these characteristics in your insulin, don’t use it, but get in touch with a healthcare professional asap to get a fresh batch you can use, and talk over how to avoid the problem in future.

Talk to your healthcare professional

It goes without saying that any advice your Diabetes Specialist Nurse, doctor or pharmacist gives you is the advice you should take. If they say anything that contradicts what you read or hear elsewhere, you’re better off listening to a trained healthcare professional that knows you. If you are worried about your health in the summer months, and want more tailored advice about staying well, do talk to a healthcare professional.