A Guide to Summer with Type 1 Diabetes

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A happy family outside having a picnic.

Memorial Day weekend (Saturday, May 28 through Monday, May 30, 2022) is the unofficial start of summer! And the summer season means a few extra things to think about when it comes to managing type 1 diabetes (T1D). Our guide is here to help!

COVID-19 Safety 

The CDC has offered general guidance about attending small and large in-person gatherings. 

5 Tips for Tackling T1D in the Summer

    1. Stay hydrated. Hot weather can quickly dehydrate anyone. To avoid the blood-sugar spikes it causes, be sure to drink water throughout the day.
    2. Test blood-sugar levels frequently. Since hot temperatures can cause unusual swings in blood-sugar levels, it’s a good idea to test your blood sugar more often than usual.
    3. Protect your gear. Keep your pump covered and your insulin cool! Heat makes insulin less effective and can cause pumps to malfunction. There are cooling cases specifically for insulin that can help you manage your supply.
    4. Pack snacks. Before any summer road trips or outings, be sure to stock up on low snacks. Snacks can help prevent blood-sugar lows. And try to stay on your food schedule, no matter what the trip throws at you.
    5. Exercise in the mornings or nights. Plan your outdoor exercise for the cooler parts of the day. Exercising in the heat can cause heat exhaustion and make staying in a healthy range difficult. Even at these times, sweating when working out is likely. Because too much moisture can damage a pump, be sure to keep an eye on it.

Insulin + Heat

Insulin is a protein and, like any other protein, it breaks down in heat, making it ineffective.

That temperature might seem extreme, but after two hours in a hot car, playing sports outside or even just lying out on a beach towel, your insulin supply could be in trouble. Be sure to keep it cool and change the insulin in your pump regularly.

Wear sunscreen. Everyone should be protecting their skin from harmful UV rays, but with T1D, the need to wear sunscreen is extra important. Why? Sunburns cause the body extra, and unneeded, stress that can cause blood-sugar spikes. Use SPF 30 or higher.

The Science of Summer

Unfortunately heat can cause both unexpected highs and lows in blood-sugar levels.

Dehydration is common in the summer and can lead to spikes when blood glucose becomes more concentrated due to the decrease in blood flow through the kidneys.

The heat can also cause dives in blood-glucose levels. As the temperature rises, the body’s blood vessels expand, speeding up insulin absorption and increasing the risk of hypoglycemia. This is especially true while exercising, as working out already increases blood flow.

Summer Travel Checklist

What’s in your summer travel bag? Whether you’re on a day trip to the beach or jet setting somewhere far away, here are some T1D essentials to add to your packing list:

  • A travel letter from your doctor with written approval to travel with insulin and syringes (recommended)
  • Insulin
  • Syringes
  • Insulin pens
  • Test strips
  • Lancets
  • Ketone test strips

Pack twice as much medication and supplies as you think you’ll need (just in case!).

  • Back-up snacks for quick carbs
  • Emergency glucagon
  • Equipment including blood glucose meters, continuous glucose monitors(CGM) and insulin pumps
    • If you’re using an insulin pump, many manufacturers offer loaners for travel. Ask for one as a back-up!

Keep all of the above, especially your insulin, in a carry-on bag. Medications should be kept in a clear plastic bag, ready for airport security. Don’t store insulin or a CGM in checked luggage–cargo holds can have extreme temperatures!

Cocktails and Carbs: How to Safely Drink With Diabetes

T1D should not keep you from a good time–and, perhaps, a nice glass of wine. Just like anyone partaking in alcohol, there are a few things to be aware of.

Be mindful of your alcohol consumption, especially in the sun, as it can affect your body’s ability to regulate its temperature. Because certain drinks can have unexpected impacts on blood sugar, you can always talk it through with your doctor. In general, stick to low-sugar options, stay hydrated (with water!) and don’t drink on an empty stomach.

For beverage carb counts and other helpful information, consult JDRF’s resource, “What You Need to Know About Type 1 Diabetes and Alcohol.”