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7 Summer Safety Tips with Type 1 Diabetes

Whether you’re summering in the Hamptons, frocking on a tropical isle, or enjoying poolside Fourth of July picnics with friends, it’s easy to forget to be safe while managing diabetes.

7 Summer Safety Tips with Type 1 Diabetes

Glorious summer is here at last! Most people with type 1 diabetes (T1D) know planning and packing are essential to good diabetes management. We work hard to play hard. We wait all winter for good weather, and when it’s finally here, it’s easy to throw caution to the wind.

Nevertheless, along with the long, warm summer solstice and leisurely beach strolls—come heat, dehydration, and irregular blood glucose levels. The rise in temperature can affect insulin absorption, especially when paired with outdoor physical activity.

Here are some T1D Tips to dive into summer, armed with healthy reminders to stay safe.

1. Wear Sunscreen Daily

As most of us know, those harmful, inviting summer rays can cause painful pink burns and deadly skin cancer if we’re not careful. However, you may not know sunburns can raise blood glucose levels, causing dehydration and frequent urination.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends a waterproof sunscreen with 30 SPF or higher. It is also essential to look for a non-toxic sunscreen variety void of harmful chemicals. Some safer options use mineral filters like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to block UV rays.

Additionally, checking the ultraviolet index (UV) on your phone before heading out is a good idea. The scale measures the sun’s heat index and intensity. The Environmental Protection Agency rates the UV level from low (<2) to extreme (11+). Moreover, the higher the index, the greater the risk of heat exhaustion and harm to our skin and eyes.

If you like to sunbathe under the luminary sol, lather up with some SPF, and if you crave that bronze fix, there are safer options with spray tans and lotions.

2. Did Someone Say Hydrate?

The value of H2O is extremely vital in the summer months when dehydration is common among T1Ds. Dehydration can lead to heat stroke, muscle fatigue, high blood pressure, and high blood glucose levels. If everyone listened to the benefits of water, there would be no hydro flasks left on the shelves.

And as we sweat, we lose additional fluids, making drinking up even more essential. Foods and fruits with high water content include watermelon, cucumbers, salads and celery, which can help us stay hydrated longer.

Water promotes healthy skin, aids digestion, lowers blood pressure and regulates the body’s temperature so we don’t overheat. It also helps with mental clarity, circulation, and enhances serotonin.

3. Stock up on Diabetes Supplies

It’s a good idea to get your diabetes medications and provisions (test strips, lancets, insulin pump, insulin pen, and continuous glucose monitor supplies) early and be up to date with prescriptions so you’re not scrambling the day before your vacation. It's also crucial to carry backup blood glucose meters in case something happens to your pump or CGM.

With the recent insulin shortage lingering, it’s critical to have adequate vials and pens stocked and ready.

Pro Tip: Always carry a first aid kit and Glucagon Emergency Kit with you, and make sure they are not expired.

4. Carry Your Own Snacks to Avoid Food Poisoning

It’s smart to have healthy, low-carb snacks on hand to prevent low blood sugar and a high blood sugar spike watching the fireworks. It’s okay to go with the flow—just make sure you have plenty of food and drink on that summer road trip.

More importantly, you can avoid being tempted with sketchy food like yogurt that feels warm in the bins at the airport or Aunt Alice’s macaroni mayo salad that’s been sitting in the sun for hours. When in question, skip it. It’s also vital to read expiration dates and labels for summer salads and dressings.

Viruses and bacteria are the common cause of food poisoning, which can lead to a medical emergency if you’re not careful. Individuals with type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune condition, may have weakened immune systems, leaving them more susceptible to food poisoning and its effects.  

5. Test Blood Sugar Levels Often

It seems like everything under the sun affects sugar levels (food, exercise, stress, sleep, hydration, to name a few). Most significantly, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “High temperatures can change how your body uses insulin.”

T1Ds may need to test more frequently during the hot weather months and adjust their insulin doses to avoid high and low blood sugars. No matter if you’re using a blood sugar monitor (BGM) or continuous glucose monitor, it’s best to stay ahead of the game with fluctuating glucose levels so that when you’re at Six Flaggs, you’re not riding a blood sugar rollercoaster.

6. Water Proof Adhesives

With summer comes rafting, canoeing, kayaking, water parks and swimming pools—it’s all fun and games until your CGM site falls off or your insulin pump gets wet. Several waterproof adhesive patches are on the market to protect diabetes equipment, insulin pumps, and CGM sites. Transparent, waterproof, and breathable patches can lengthen your time in the sun and protect you from having to redo your site or, even worse, go home.

Another rule for summer activities is to keep your diabetes medications, blood glucose meters, and medical devices out of direct sunlight and chill your insulin, as heat can sometimes make insulin ineffective. The FRIO insulin pack is designed to keep insulin and insulin pens cool.  

Pro Tip: If traveling by plane, keep your supplies in a carry-on clear plastic bag so you can keep it at room temperature. Most airlines allow for additional bags for diabetes supplies and other perks like preboarding.

7. Drink Responsibly

The summer months bring delicious cocktails readily available and sweet enough to overdo at leisurely barbecues and holiday engagements. While it’s okay to indulge in one or two alcoholic beverages with food, it’s important to stay hydrated and conscious of your consumption. Fruity umbrella drinks can cause a blood sugar spike, followed by low blood sugar. Remember the sun and extreme heat affect blood sugar levels, and certain drinks can impact glucose levels differently.  

Talk with a diabetes educator and try to stick with low-sugar and low-carb options. Keep hydrating with zero-carb sports drinks and other electrolyte-filled beverages. Also, never drink on an empty stomach!

T1Ds should bear caution and know that drinking and swimming never mix. Always go with a trusted friend, and don’t overestimate your abilities against a strong ocean current.

Additional Summer Pointers

  • Exercise safely; always carry water and extra snacks in case of low blood sugars.
  • Protect your feet! Never go barefoot at the beach or pool or during any physical activity.
  • Watch for lightning and remember the 30-30 rule. If lightning is sooner than 30 seconds, it’s time to head inside.
  • Be alert for heat exhaustion that can lead to a medical emergency and a trip to the ER. People with diabetes and high blood pressure are more likely to have heat-related complications.

 Signs for Heat Stroke and Heat Exhaustion include: 

  • Heavy sweating
  • Accelerated heartbeat
  • Heat rash—red bumps or dry skin
  • Cold or clammy skin
  • Muscle cramps
  • Tiredness or weakness
  • Dizziness or confusion
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fainting

Do What You Love

Managing diabetes can be challenging during the hot weather months, but the diabetes online community is an excellent resource for activities. Speak with your health care team and diabetes educator for support groups in your area. JDRF has a calendar of social meetings, and ConnectedinMotion has summer camps for T1D adults seeking outdoor adventure. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) has recreational programs and camps as well.

Social engagements are good for the soul and help alleviate depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions. It’s essential to find activities that bring you joy. Try something new, take a road trip, delight in nature, and above all, remember ‘that life is short; it’s up to you to make it sweet.’

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