5 Ways Hot Weather Affects Diabetes

This blog post was originally published on Hugging the Cactus on August 6, 2018. Call it an “oldie but goodie” because the ways in which hot weather can affect diabetes haven’t changed in the last few years and they won’t be changing any time soon…and with summer just around the corner, it’s good to remind ourselves of the extra precautions we might want to take in order to combat the heat. Read on for more on the ways summer weather can affect people with diabetes…

The summer heat seems to be here to stay in Massachusetts. We’ve experienced several weeks of soupy, high-heat weather that *almost* makes me long for cooler, autumnal days…but not quite, because that just means winter (and snow – blech) is right around the corner.

Truly, I do enjoy the summertime. To me, summer is about trips to the beach, ice cream consumption (and lots of it), barbecues with family and friends, long walks in the neighborhood, and endless outdoor adventures. Aside from all of those lovely things, summer also means that it’s time to be a little more diligent when it comes to my diabetes. That’s because hot weather can play some cruel tricks on a T1D’s body. What do I mean by that? Here’s five ways diabetes can be affected by hot weather.

Mr. Sun, Sun, Mr. Golden Sun, please shine down on me (and don’t make me go low or high…)
  1. Dehydration can lead to high blood sugar. Everyone knows that it’s important to stay hydrated when it’s hot out, but it might be less common knowledge that dehydration can directly affect blood sugar. There’s a scientific explanation for this: If not properly hydrated, the body sees an increase in blood glucose concentration because blood won’t flow as easily to the kidneys, making it difficult for the kidneys to get rid of excess glucose in urine. The best way to prevent this, naturally, is to drink plenty of water and monitor blood sugars.
  2. Sunburn can drive up blood sugars. I’m very familiar with how a sunburn can result in higher blood sugars; in fact, just last week I was dealing with a particularly gnarly sunburn on my thighs and belly that not only made my numbers higher, but also really hurt. My skin was literally damaged, so the stress from the injury lead to retaliation from my blood sugar. Luckily, it only lasted about 48 hours, but those couple of days were challenging as I dealt with sticky highs that were practically resistant to insulin. And for the record, I DID apply sunscreen – numerous times – when I was at the beach. Next time, I’ll seek shade under the umbrella.
  3. Sweat can make it difficult for devices to stick. I don’t know a single medical device that’s immune to prolonged exposure to moisture/water, but that doesn’t prevent me from spending as much time as I can outdoors/at the beach/by the pool in the summer. Thank goodness for Skin-Tac wipes and medical adhesive tapes that help preserve my precious pods and sensors!“
  4. Insulin can overheat. There’s a reason why insulin vials come packaged in cartons with directions that specify what temperature insulin should stay at in order for it to be safe to use. Insulin can spoil easily when it reaches a certain temperature, so it’s important to store it in a cool place when the weather’s warm. I alternate between a mini portable cooler (that can hold 3 vials of insulin) and a pouch from FRIO – both do an excellent job at keeping my insulin cool.
  5. Low blood sugars can occur more frequently. Summertime is prime time for outdoor activities that result in higher energy expenditure. So it’s no wonder that blood sugar tends to plummet in hot weather. Looking at it on the bright side, it’s an excuse to eat even more ice cream – but it also means that monitoring how I feel and checking blood sugars often is that much more important.

Regardless of the diabetes challenges it may cause, I love summer weather, and I know I’ll miss it the moment the first snowflake falls this year.

Hot Yoga: A New Win for my Diabetes

Normally, if you asked me if I would willingly go into a 105 degrees Fahrenheit room for 90 minutes for a workout, I’d say ohh HELL nawwww before you had the chance to finish asking your question.

I’m not someone who has a passion for exercising. I tolerate it. I try to do it daily for two very important reasons: 1) It keeps me in shape and 2) it helps me manage my blood sugars better. Otherwise, there’s very little about exercise that I actually enjoy. I’m not a fan of feeling out-of-breath for long periods of time. I have a love-hate relationship with the post-workout soreness that floods my body after a particularly intense session. And I definitely cannot stand sweating – on just about any given day, I’d rather be freezing cold and wearing layers of clothing than dripping in sweat.

All that said, though, I willingly participated in a fitness class called Bikram yoga…which is also known as hot yoga because you’re in a temperature-controlled room heated exactly to 105 degrees for the duration of the workout. For 90 minutes, you slowly move through 26 poses, and that’s that.

I wasn’t worried about the latter; it was the former that had me sweating (both literally and figuratively). I wondered whether I’d be able to tolerate the heat for a full hour and a half. I also had concerns about my diabetes devices – would I be sweating so much that they would fall off? Would they be able to stay safely in the room with me, or would the heat be too extreme for them? And how would my body and blood sugars respond to the hot yoga, anyways?

I knew the only way to get answers to my questions was to show up for class and find out for myself.

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Me, post-class, dripping in sweat in my car. Next time, I’m bringing a change of clothes.

And that’s exactly what I did. I went to a morning class with my stomach empty and my backpack full of diabetes supplies. My blood sugars tend to respond better to exercise when I don’t have any food in my system or insulin on board, so I made it a point to wait to eat my breakfast after yoga instead of before. But I still wasn’t entirely sure if or how my blood sugar might react to a brand new kind of workout, so I wanted to be armed with several different low snacks. I felt fairly confident about its stability, though, as I headed into the class sitting pretty at 110 mg/dL.

In addition to extra diabetes supplies, I also thought to bring with me some water that I’d filled and frozen the night before the class so I could stay hydrated throughout it with water that was sure to be extra refreshing in the heat.

Even though I had all this stuff with me, I chose to leave most of it in a cubby outside the studio, save for my CGM receiver, a tube of glucose tablets, and my water bottle. I didn’t want to take any chances with my cell phone, PDM, or glucometer and expose them to the heat – I have firsthand experience with an overheated cell phone, and while it does eventually cool back down its own, overheating my devices is not something I’d actively seek to do. I was taking a bit of a risk with the CGM receiver, but since I have the Dexcom app on my cell phone, it’s not like I’d be at a huge disadvantage if something were to happen to my receiver.

So with my gear in hand, I stepped foot into the yoga studio…and immediately started sweating. Yes, that quickly! It was a heavy, stifling, and moist heat – the exact kind that I hate the most. I started to question whether I had the endurance to even sit in this heat for 90 minutes, let alone move seamlessly through yoga poses in it. In the minutes before the class began, I sipped water slowly and told myself that above everything else, I needed to listen to my body throughout the class. I started to feel better as I reassured myself that it would be perfectly acceptable to walk out should I start to feel light-headed, low, queasy, or anything else abnormal.

Fortunately, though, an exit plan wasn’t needed as I made it through the full class! That’s not to say it wasn’t challenging or extremely sweaty – seriously, my body was so covered in sweat that it looked like I’d just come out of a swimming pool – but I proved to myself that I could do it. And the best part was that my blood sugar behaved beautifully: As a reminder, it was 110 mg/dL at 8:30 A.M. Class started at 9 and lasted until 10:30 A.M. I was home by 11 and when I checked my blood sugar there, I was at 118 mg/dL. I couldn’t have asked for better pre-, mid-, and post-workout blood sugar levels.

Was it scary to try this new, moderately intense exercise? Yes. Was I concerned about my diabetes before, during, and after the class? Yes. But was it all worth it? I’d say yes. I overcame my fears and was met by blood sugar success, making hot yoga a diabetes win in my book.

5 Ways that Hot Weather Affects Diabetes

The summer heat seems to be here to stay in Massachusetts. We’ve experienced several weeks of soupy, high-heat weather that *almost* makes me long for cooler, autumnal days…but not quite, because that just means winter (and snow – blech) is right around the corner.

Truly, I do enjoy the summertime. To me, summer is about trips to the beach, ice cream consumption (and lots of it), barbecues with family and friends, long walks in the neighborhood, and endless outdoor adventures. Aside from all of those lovely things, summer also means that it’s time to be a little more diligent when it comes to my diabetes. That’s because hot weather can play some cruel tricks on a T1D’s body. What do I mean by that? Here’s five ways diabetes can be affected by hot weather.

  1. Dehydration can lead to high blood sugar. Everyone knows that it’s important to stay hydrated when it’s hot out, but it might be less common knowledge that dehydration can directly affect blood sugar. There’s a scientific explanation for this: If not properly hydrated, the body sees an increase in blood glucose concentration because blood won’t flow as easily to the kidneys, making it difficult for the kidneys to get rid of excess glucose in urine. The best way to prevent this, naturally, is to drink plenty of water and monitor blood sugars.
  2. Sunburn can drive up blood sugars. I’m very familiar with how a sunburn can result in higher blood sugars; in fact, just last week I was dealing with a particularly gnarly sunburn on my thighs and belly that not only made my numbers higher, but also really hurt. My skin was literally damaged, so the stress from the injury lead to retaliation from my blood sugar. Luckily, it only lasted about 48 hours, but those couple of days were challenging as I dealt with sticky highs that were practically resistant to insulin. And for the record, I DID apply sunscreen – numerous times – when I was at the beach. Next time, I’ll seek shade under the umbrella.
  3. Sweat can make it difficult for devices to stick. I don’t know a single medical device that’s immune to prolonged exposure to moisture/water, but that doesn’t prevent me from spending as much time as I can outdoors/at the beach/by the pool in the summer. Thank goodness for Skin-Tac wipes and medical adhesive tapes that help preserve my precious pods and sensors!

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    “Sun-kissed skin so hot/We’ll melt your popsicle…and your insulin” – Katy Perry (with some help from Molly Johannes)
  4. Insulin can overheat. There’s a reason why insulin vials come packaged in cartons with directions that specify what temperature insulin should stay at in order for it to be safe to use. Insulin can spoil easily when it reaches a certain temperature, so it’s important to store it in a cool place when the weather’s warm. I alternate between a mini portable cooler (that can hold 3 vials of insulin) and a pouch from FRIO – both do an excellent job at keeping my insulin cool.
  5. Low blood sugars can occur more frequently. Summertime is prime time for outdoor activities that result in higher energy expenditure. So it’s no wonder that blood sugar tends to plummet in hot weather. Looking at it on the bright side, it’s an excuse to eat even more ice cream – but it also means that monitoring how I feel and checking blood sugars often is that much more important.

Regardless of the diabetes challenges it may cause, I love summer weather, and I know I’ll miss it the moment the first snowflake falls this year.