Managing Diabetes in Cold Weather

The man is drinking coffee looking out the window

Before checking blood sugar, warm cold hands around a cup of hot tea to get a good reading.

Cold weather can spike your blood sugar in a few ways. But you don’t have to let the weather get the upper hand. Here are tips to help you stay on top of your diabetes care when it’s cold outside.

How Cold Weather Can Spike Your Blood Sugar

Cold temperatures can stress your body. In response, your body releases stress hormones such as cortisol to provide an energy boost. These hormones reduce insulin production. Because insulin helps the body’s cells absorb glucose (blood sugar) from the blood, having less insulin means that more glucose remains in the blood. Stress hormones also stimulate your liver to make and release more glucose. As a result, your blood sugar levels go up.

Influenza (flu) activity often begins to increase in October and reaches its peak between December and February. Getting the flu can trigger your body to release stress hormones to boost energy and fight infection, causing blood sugar levels to increase.

The winter months bring the holiday season for many cultures. Parties, family feasts, and gift baskets may disrupt your meal plan with higher-calorie foods. Bitter weather can also make it harder to stay outside and keep physically active. Disruption to your meal and activity plans can increase your blood sugar.

How to Stay on Top of Your Health in Cold Weather

To stay on track with your diabetes management in the cold:

  • Check your blood sugar regularly, and more often if you’re ill or having symptoms of low blood sugar. You may find it harder to test your blood sugar in winter. Winter can chill your hands, making testing more painful. Try warming your hands near a heater or around a cup of warm water before testing to make it more comfortable and get a good reading.
  • Stay warm. Curl up under a blanket, do some physical activity at home, or have a cup of hot tea. But be careful when using electric blankets, heating pads, or foot warmers. You may not recognize the temperature is too high and burn your skin.
  • Get your flu shot every year. Flu vaccination can reduce the chance of getting the flu, visits to doctor’s offices, missed work and school, and severity of illness if you get the flu.
  • Check your skin and feet every day. Cold weather usually comes with dry air. Indoor and car heaters can also dry your skin out. Dry, itchy skin can lead to cracks on your skin. Germs may get into the cracks, causing an infection. Pay close attention to your skin and feet so you can notice problems early and get them treated right away.
  • Add indoor activities to your daily routine. Try a yoga or Zumba video. Make it fun by asking your family or friends to join you.
  • Stay on track no matter what’s cooking. Try healthy eating tips like cutting back on other carbs during the meal when you have a sweet treat.
  • Keep your medicines, supplies, and equipment away from extreme cold. Insulin is sensitive to temperatures. You’ll need to keep it cool but don’t let it freeze. Insulin freezes at around 32°F (0°C), and frozen insulin doesn’t work anymore, even when thawed. The cold can also damage insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors.
  • Prepare a backup kit. Having a diabetes care kit can help you manage diabetes during times of emergency like a snowstorm.


Here’s to staying warm and safe!