Two Things Those With Diabetes Need To Keep Cool This Summer
If you have diabetes, the two things you need to keep cool as we head into the hot summer months is yourself, and - if you use it - your insulin.
Fun in the sun can quickly sour, even become dangerous, if we or our insulin become overheated. So, always keep yourself hydrated, and know the maximum temperatures recommended for your brand of insulin—because heat will degrade it.
Heat and Insulin
Insulin is a protein, and like any protein it can spoil. Spoiling means bacteria is breaking down the protein, and although this will not make users sick, the insulin becomes less and less effective. Though insulins contain preservatives the preservatives gradually stop working, particularly at room temperature and above.
Heat-affected insulin is difficult to detect since it does not change color, though eagle-eyed observers might notice it has a slightly frosty appearance owed to a suspension of very fine particles. However, most people realize their insulin has gone “bad” only after it stops lowering their blood sugar.
Some insulins are sturdier than others and may withstand warm or hot temps longer than manufacturers suggest. However, especially if you are enjoying outdoor fun away from home, you will want to be confident that your insulin works as usual, so be sure to keep it cool. Store it in a refrigerator, an insulated cooler or case with a freezable gel pack, or in a cooling wallet.
Reusable cooling wallets are convenient since they require no refrigeration or ice. After submersing the wallet’s crystal-filled liner in cold water for about 15 minutes, the wallet keeps diabetes supplies cool up to 48 hours via evaporation. Pump wallets are an option for insulin pump users. (Never store insulin directly on ice, or an ice pack.)
Keeping Your Cool
While keeping your insulin cool, also remember to keep yourself hydrated, decrease your activity level on hot, humid days, and know the warning signs of heat-related illness:
- Muscle cramps, weakness, fatigue
- Nausea, vomiting
- Headache, dizziness, lightheadedness
- Extensive sweating
- Confusion, irritability
- Low blood pressure, increased heart rate
- Visual problems
If you experience mild symptoms you need to immediately re-hydrate, and lower your body temperature. Stop your activity, get out of the heat, and ask someone to stay with you until you feel better.
Take off any sports equipment or extra clothing, and fan your body, or wet it down with cool water. Placing ice packs or cool wet towels on the neck, forehead, or under the arms can help and drink water or sports beverages. If not doing better after a half hour, call your doctor.
Immediate medical help should be sought for severe symptoms or signs of heatstroke (e.g. hot skin, stop/start sweating, heart rhythm irregularities, rapid breathing, racing pulse, altered behavior, flushed skin, nausea).
Fortunately, both heat-related illnesses and insulin degradation are largely preventable. Taking common-sense precautions and knowing your limits will keep the fun and safety in summertime activities.