Diabetes Care Critical in Heat, Emergencies
If you have diabetes, you know how important it is to have a care routine. Yet summer weather, with its high temperatures and extreme storms, can cause problems with that routine and make it more difficult to manage diabetes.
If you have diabetes, it is harder for your body to handle high heat and humidity. You may need to make changes in your medication and what you eat and drink when temperatures heat up. During emergencies and natural disasters such as hurricanes or tornadoes, you may have other needs related to diabetes. You should identify yourself as a person with diabetes so you can get appropriate care. If you are a family member, caregiver, or health care provider for someone with diabetes, please share this information with them.
Read on to learn more about taking care of yourself during emergencies and high temperatures.
Hot weather – temperatures of 80°F (about 27°C) or above, especially with high humidity – can affect medication, testing supplies and your health. The heat index, which measures how hot it really feels by combining temperature and humidity readings, advises caution starting at 80°F with 40% humidity. Extreme heat is especially dangerous to people age 65 and older, children younger than 4, people with mental illnesses, and people with chronic diseases such as diabetes.
- Heat can affect your blood sugar (glucose) levels and also increase the absorption of some fast-acting insulin, meaning you will need to test your blood sugar more often and perhaps adjust your intake of insulin, food, and liquids.
- Drink plenty of fluids, especially water, to avoid dehydration. Don’t wait until you get thirsty; it’s a sign you’re already dehydrated. Avoid sugar-sweetened drinks such as sweet tea and sodas.
- If your doctor has limited how much liquid you can drink, ask what to do during times of high heat.
- Know the signs of heat-related illness and how to respond to symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not provided.
- Wear sunscreen and use a lip balm with sunscreen.
- Wear loose-fitting, lightweight, and light-colored clothing.
- Check package inserts with medications to learn when high temperatures can affect them. Take medications with you if you will need to take them while you’re away from home, and protect them from the heat.
- If you’re traveling with insulin, don’t store it in direct sunlight or in a hot car. Keep it in a cooler, but do not place it directly on ice or on a gel pack.
- Check glucose meter and test strip packages for information on use during times of high heat and humidity. Do not leave them in a hot car, by a pool, or on the beach.
- Heat can damage insulin pumps and other equipment. Do not leave the disconnected pump or supplies in the direct sun or in a hot car.
- Get physical activity in air-conditioned areas, or exercise outside early or late in the day, during cooler temperatures.
- Use your air conditioner or go to air-conditioned buildings in your community.
What to Do During Emergencies
People with diabetes face extra challenges during emergencies and natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and tornadoes. If you are evacuating—leaving your home to get away from a threat—or staying in an emergency shelter, it is important to let others know that you have diabetes so that you can take care of your health needs. If you have any other health problems, such as chronic kidney disease or heart disease, make sure you let others know about those, too.
Here are other important steps to take:
- Drink plenty of fluids, especially water. Safe drinking water may be hard to find in emergencies, but if you do not take in enough water, you could develop serious medical problems. Heat, stress, high blood sugar, and some diabetes medicines such as metformin can cause you to lose fluid, which increases the chances you will become dehydrated.
- Keep something containing sugar with you at all times, in case you develop dangerously low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). You may not be able to check blood sugar levels, so know the warning signs of low blood sugar.
- Pay special attention to your feet. Stay out of contaminated water, wear shoes, and examine feet carefully for any sign of infection or injury. Get medical treatment quickly for any injuries.
Planning for Emergencies
- Make an emergency plan for you and your family. To learn how, visit Ready.gov.
- Always wear identification that says you have diabetes.
- If you take insulin, ask your doctor during a regular visit what to do in an emergency if you do not have your insulin and cannot get more.
- If you take other medicines for diabetes, check with your doctor on a routine visit about what to do during an emergency if you do not have your medicine.
- Prepare an emergency supply of food and water.
- Include an adequate supply of medicine and medical supplies in your emergency kit, enough to last at least three days and possibly more, depending on your needs. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about storing prescription medicines such as heart and high blood pressure medicine, insulin, and other prescription drugs. Make a plan for how you will handle medicine that normally requires refrigeration, such as insulin.
- Make sure you change medicine and medical supplies in your emergency kit regularly, to make sure they stay up to date. Check expiration dates on all medicine and supplies often.
- Keep copies of prescriptions and other important medical information, including the phone number for your health care provider, in your emergency kit.
- Keep a list of the type and model number of medical devices you use, such as an insulin pump, in the emergency kit.
- If you have a child with diabetes who is in school or daycare, make sure you know the school’s emergency plan. Work with them to make sure your child will have needed diabetes supplies in an emergency.
- If you need regular medical treatments, such as dialysis, talk to your service provider about their emergency plans.
- CDC: Diabetes Care During Natural Disasters, Emergencies, and Hazards
- CDC: Natural Disasters and Severe Weather
- CDC: Emergency Preparedness and You
- New Jersey Department of Health – Diabetes Disaster Preparedness: Patient Information[ PDF - 204KB ]
- American Diabetes Association: Tips for Emergency Preparedness
- American Diabetes Association: Medical Advice for People With Diabetes in Emergency Situations [ PDF - 40KB ]
- National Weather Service: Heat: A Major Killer
- FDA: Insulin Storage and Switching Between Products in an Emergency
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