Diabetes and Heat: What’s the Connection? 8 Hot Weather Diabetes Tips

Fact checked by Olga Sadouskaya, MD
Clinical Pharmacologist, Chief Medical Officer

Have you or someone you love been diagnosed with type-1 or type-2 diabetes?

Do you struggle to regulate your blood sugar levels in extreme heat and humidity?

Everyone needs to be careful when the summer temperatures soar. However, people with diabetes are more likely to experience heat intolerance. Poor temperature regulation puts stress on your body and can throw your blood sugar out of balance.

Keep reading as we discuss why diabetes specialists advise patients to be careful in hot, humid weather. We’ll also explore warning signs to look out for and how you can protect yourself from the heat.

How heat affects people with diabetes

On average, the human body operates at a core temperature of around 98.6 F. However, if you have diabetes, your temperature regulation mechanisms may not be working perfectly, which can make you more vulnerable to heat illnesses.

Heat also impacts blood sugar control and increases your risk for:

  • Hyperglycemia — High blood sugar
  • Hypoglycemia — Low blood sugar

In fact, research shows that hot weather can cause an increase in diabetes-related hospital visits.

But why does this happen?

Dehydration concentrates blood glucose

Dehydration is common when it’s hot outside. Your body loses water and minerals as it attempts to cool down via sweating. Unfortunately, reduced fluid levels concentrate blood glucose, which increases the risk of hyperglycemia. To make matters worse, high blood sugar further dehydrates your body by increasing urination frequency.

Signs of dehydration in diabetes include excessive thirst, headache, and dry, hot skin. 

Another symptom of diabetes, dry mouth, may also indicate heat-induced hyperglycemia and dehydration.

Nerve damage impacts temperature control

Two common side effects3 of poorly managed diabetes are:

  • Neuropathy — nerve damage
  • Poor circulation due to blood vessel damage

Unfortunately, this interferes with how your body perceives and adapts to heat.

Nerve damage affects how your nervous system communicates with your sweat glands. Research shows that people with diabetes are more vulnerable to heat stress due to a lack of sweating.

Plus, blood vessel damage can impair circulation, stopping heat from dissipating off your skin.

Measuring blood sugar levels with diabetes

Heat may affect insulin levels

Due to the effect extreme heat has on blood circulation, it can change the way your body absorbs insulin. For those dependent on insulin medication, hot weather can affect your insulin dosage. In addition, hot weather can damage insulin medication, making it less effective.

It’s essential to take precautions to protect yourself and your medication in the heat.

Does the type of diabetes determine how the weather affects you?

Whether you have type-1 or type-2 diabetes, you must monitor your blood sugar levels and symptoms in hot weather. Both types of diabetes can lead to complications and increase the risk of heart disease and vessel damage.

People with type-1 diabetes also depend on insulin medication, while most people with type-2 diabetes can manage their symptoms with lifestyle changes.

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Does humidity play a role?

Humidity refers to the amount of moisture in the air. In a humid environment, moisture clings to your skin, preventing sweat from evaporating. This stops your body from cooling down quickly and increases your risk of heat illness.

People with diabetes need to be especially careful when the heat index — the combined air temperature and humidity — is high. The higher the heat index, the harder it is to cool down.

Diabetes and heat: Symptoms to look out for

For people with diabetes, symptoms of blood sugar swings, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke can overlap. This makes it tricky to know when your blood sugar is out of range.

Listen to your body and look out for the following warning signs:

  • Excessive sweating
  • Excessive thirst
  • Dry mouth
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness and fainting
  • Shakiness
  • Nausea
  • Weak, rapid pulse
  • Pale, clammy skin

In both heat illness and diabetes, swollen ankles and feet are common symptoms caused by poor circulation and fluid buildup. In addition, frequent urination, thirst, and blurry vision may indicate your blood sugar has risen above normal levels. These symptoms may also be a sign of undiagnosed diabetes.

How to manage diabetes in hot weather

At WeatherWell, we’ve compiled expert tips to help you manage the heat with diabetes.

1. Keep an eye on the forecast

Keeping an eye on the WeatherWell forecast for your area can help you prepare and plan for hot weather. This allows you to protect yourself by keeping yourself hydrated, cooling your home, and staying out of the sun when the temperature climbs.

2. Check your blood sugar levels and keep your medication close

On hot days, you need to monitor glucose levels more than usual as they may fluctuate. In addition, keep your insulin and other medication with you in case of emergency as your dosage may change in hot weather. However, speak to your diabetes specialist before attempting to adjust your dose.

Tip: Insulin medication and glucose testing equipment are temperature sensitive. Never leave your medication or other equipment in a hot car or direct sunlight. Keep them in a portable cooler bag when you’re out and about. You can also invest in a cooler chest that plugs into your car.

3. Stay hydrated

Don’t wait until you feel thirsty to drink water during hot and humid weather. Instead, fill up a water bottle and take frequent sips throughout the day to stay hydrated.

Avoid sugary sports drinks that may spike your blood glucose. 

Stick to water, herbal tea, smoothies, and sugar-free electrolyte drinks. This may help you to avoid fatigue and a diabetes headache.

4. Avoid sunburn

Sunburn is common during summer. It’s easy to forget the time when you’re enjoying yourself in the sun. For people with diabetes, the physical stress of sunburn can trigger high blood sugar levels. Plus, sunburn contributes to dehydration and heat illness. Additionally, people with diabetes often have dry skin, which is more susceptible to damage and harder to heal.

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Protect yourself from sunburn by following these tips:

  • When possible, stay inside or in the shade between the hours of 11:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m.
  • Always wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen that has an SPF of 50 or higher.
  • Cover up with UV-protective clothing and a wide-brimmed hat when you’re outdoors.

5. Wear loose, lightweight clothes

Wearing loose, cool fabrics in summer can really help people with diabetes manage the heat. It helps sweat evaporate off your skin and cools you down.

Loose-fitting, weather-appropriate clothes made from breathable, moisture-wicking materials like cotton, wool, bamboo, and linen are ideal.

Plus, for those with diabetes, night sweats are a common symptom and may cause sleep disruptions. Loose-fitting, breathable pajamas may help you sleep better by pulling sweat off your skin and allowing you to cool down quickly.

6. Protect your feet

Peripheral neuropathy — nerve damage affecting the hands and feet — is a common side effect of diabetes. Unfortunately, this can reduce heat perception. When you’re outdoors in summer barefoot, you might not immediately realize that you’re walking on a hot surface, which may cause skin burns.

It’s crucial to protect your feet from hot surfaces. Always wear comfortable, breathable, and protective shoes outdoors. 

Check your feet for burns and blisters regularly.

If you have any cuts on your feet, get them treated immediately because poor circulation may impact wound healing in diabetes. Swollen ankles and feet are also common symptoms. So, ensure your shoes can accommodate your feet and ankles comfortably.

7. Exercise with caution

Regular exercise is a vital part of diabetes management. It supports healthy blood sugar levels and overall well-being. Being physically fit may also reduce the risk of diabetes complications. However, intense exercise in hot weather is dangerous for people with diabetes and can trigger exertional heatstroke.

Avoid engaging in intense exercise when the heat index is high. Plan any exercise sessions during the early morning or late afternoon, when the air is coolest. When possible, opt for moderate-intensity exercise in an air-conditioned space.

Healthy meals for people with diabetes

8. Eat frequently

Eating frequent meals and snacks can help you maintain stable blood sugar levels. Keeping high-glucose snacks on hand in hot weather may help you prevent dangerous blood sugar dips.

When to see a doctor

People with diabetes may be more likely to experience heatstroke. Unfortunately, this can cause serious complications without quick treatment.

But how do you know when to manage your symptoms at home or see your diabetes doctor?

Please seek emergency medical attention if you or someone you love experiences the following symptoms:

  • A fever of 101–104 F
  • Fainting
  • Hot, dry skin
  • Rapid breathing
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Disorientation and delirium

People with type-1 diabetes are at risk of ketoacidosis, which is caused by low insulin levels and uncontrolled blood sugar levels. Symptoms include excessive thirst, frequent urination, fatigue, fruity breath, nausea, and confusion. This is especially dangerous for those with undiagnosed diabetes. Knowing the signs and when to seek medical attention may help you avoid serious complications.

In Conclusion

Extreme weather takes its toll on all of us. However, heat and diabetes make a dangerous combination. People with diabetes need to be extra cautious to prevent heat illness and blood sugar fluctuations in summer.

Staying out of the sun, drinking plenty of fluids, keeping your medication with you, and wearing lightweight clothing can go a long way to helping you stay healthy.

February 20, 2023