Swimming with an Insulin Pump: Tips for Taking the Plunge
If you recently started using an insulin pump, or have been on a pump but are just getting back in the water, it may take some trial and error to settle on a swimming routine that works for you.
You will naturally want to follow your doctor’s and pump manufacturer’s advice for swimming with a pump. Add to that suggestions from seasoned pump users who are also swimmers, and you will be ready to stick your toe in the water.
Unless your pump is waterproof or in a waterproof case, you will disconnect the tubing from the infusion set before diving in. Remember to keep one or two infusion set caps with your diabetes supplies to cap your set before getting wet.
Some people wrap the disconnected pump in a towel to keep it clean, dry, and away from direct sunlight. Others put the pump in a plastic bag and pop it in the cooler holding their other diabetes supplies.
Before disconnecting the pump, it is wise to take a glucose reading. If your blood sugar is within normal limits, the pump can be off for one to two hours – see what your doctor recommends.
People’s bodies react differently to exercising while off the pump. Some individuals will experience a rise in glucose, and others will notice a drop. So, blood sugar levels should be checked every half hour while swimming, and again after drying off for the day. Frequent swimmers who are experienced pump users, and know how their body responds to aquatic exercise, may be able to check less often.
Experts recommend swimmers dry their hands thoroughly before testing since wet fingers may affect the accuracy of a glucose reading.
Keeping the Infusion Set On
The most common problem for pump-using swimmers is the effect of water on the infusion set adhesive. The flow of water around the edge of an adhesive patch, or tape, can loosen its grip. Swimmers typically must use trial and error to find what keeps a set stuck to their skin in water.
Some frequent-swimmer suggestions for staying stuck to your infusion set are:
- wear a very light-weight wet suit t-shirt over the infusion site.
- wear a snug one piece swim suit, or board shorts, to help secure the site.
- cover the area with a large water-block band-aide (Johnson company).
- prepare the admin site with IV prep wipes or a tacky skin prep product, and secure the set with IV3000 tape.
- cover the set with Tegaderm.
- use tincture of benzoin (liquid bandaid) around the edges of the set adhesive patch (some people may be allergic to the tincture so test on a small area of skin first).
The different tapes and skin preps available can irritate sensitive skin. Check for redness or rashes when using a new product.
Wearing Your Pump in the Water
If your pump is labeled waterproof, make sure you know what the manufacturer means by that. It could mean the pump can withstand the occasional splash of water or that it is submersible. Some submersible pumps must have their chamber vents plugged prior to entering the water, and you will need to secure the tubing.
Those who love exploring aquatic depths, know that waterproof pumps are designed for use near the water’s surface (within about nine feet of the surface). They are not made for scuba diving.
The newer tubeless insulin pumps are what many diabetic frequent-swimmers recommend. The pumping mechanism, cannula, needle, and reservoir for insulin are tucked into a small wearable unit. Insulin delivery is programmed into the hand held Personal Diabetes Manager (PDM) that signals the pump unit digitally. However, the pump’s adhesive is easily loosened by water so users have to deal with that issue.