Enjoying the sun is one of the things many people look forward to in the summer and on holiday. But if you have diabetes, it can be harder to manage your blood glucose (sugar) levels in the hot weather.
Long periods of inactivity in the sun can affect diabetes control, making blood sugar levels higher than usual. On the flipside, insulin will be absorbed more quickly from the injection site in warm weather, and this increases the risk of hypos.
If you are vigilant about your diabetes control then there is no reason you can't have fun in the sun like anybody else.
Take the following steps to ensure you can safely enjoy the warm weather.
Monitor your levels
People with diabetes will need to monitor their blood glucose levels more often and be ready to adjust their diet or insulin dose accordingly. If you plan on being active in the sun, like having a swim, eat some extra carbohydrate at your meal before or as an extra snack. Check your levels beforehand and have a sugary snack if your levels are low. Keep something sugary to hand too, just in case.
Keep meters and test strips away from the sun
Extremes of temperature can also affect your blood glucose meter and test strips. Keep your meter and test strips as close to normal room temperature as possible and out of direct sunlight, but don’t refrigerate them as cold temperatures can also lead to misleading results.
Store your insulin properly
If your blood sugar levels are consistently higher than expected, it is worth considering whether your insulin could have been damaged in the sun. Insulin, in the hot weather especially, is best kept in the fridge or a cool bag (taking care that it does not freeze).
When damaged by heat, clear insulin generally becomes cloudy and cloudy insulin becomes grainy and sticks in the side of the glass. Insulin that has been exposed to bright sunlight sometimes has a brownish colour. Do not use insulin that shows these changes. Speak to your GP or healthcare professional if you are unsure.
Other top tips
When you're out and about in the sun, remember to:
- wear long sleeves, loose trousers, a hat and sunglasses with a UV 400 label
- apply sunscreen to exposed areas of your body 15–30 minutes before going out in the sun
- If you have neuropathy, you may not be aware your feet are burning, so apply sunscreen and wear flip flops on hot ground.
Heat exhaustion can develop when the body finds it difficult to keep cool. Symptoms include headaches, dizziness, nausea and vomiting, tiredness, muscle cramps, stomach cramps and pale skin. As some of these could also be due to unstable blood glucose levels, it's important to test regularly.
Heat exhaustion needs immediate treatment. Move to a cool place to rest and sip a cold drink. If left untreated, heat exhaustion can lead to the more severe and potentially life-threatening condition heat stroke, so take action straight away.
Symptoms of heat stroke include confusion, hallucinations, rapid breathing and convulsions, all of which require immediate medical attention.