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There is currently a “big freeze” in the UK, although coming from living in Austria for 5 weeks, they really exaggerate, but I thought, in the spirit of cold weather, let's look how to handle our diabetes in the cold weather and the different ways that the cold can affect our blood sugars. Below is your full throttle guide to managing your diabetes in cold weather.
You probably know by now that pretty much everything affects type 1 diabetes, it’s one of those simple joys. (I hope you can detect my sarcasm), even so, it’s important to be prepared in cold weather, because it can have a significant effect on our blood sugars. Actually, we tend to have a higher HBA1C in the winter months...and there is a lot of factors that contribute to that.
Firstly, we tend to have weaker immune systems in colder weather which means we can catch sickness easier, even a simple “cold” and “a cough” is enough to send our blood sugars higher. Not only that but the cold in general means our general blood flowing around our bodies is reduced and this can put us at risk of a number of things and reduce the effectiveness of our insulin. Then, on top of all that, our insulin can die in the cold AND our diabetes equipment can break. It hardly seems worth it now eh? :P
Not to worry, below are some tips to help you manage your blood sugar and diabetes in the cold weather.
A lower immune system means you are more prone to illness, illness means your blood sugar runs higher, your blood sugar running higher means you need more insulin, it also means you’re dehydrated, and at risk of DKA. Therefore, it is vital that you give your body the best possible chance to fight off infections.
Always get your flu jab (which is offered free in the UK), and in the USA, the cost of a flu shot varies by location but typically ranges between $5 and $30, however, this may or may not be included in your insurance, so discuss with your doctor.
You can also help boost your immune system by taking vitamin supplements, eating healthy and drinking lots of water.
Higher blood sugars make you “feel” warmer in cold temperatures. This happens because the sugar content in our blood makes it harder to freeze or cool down. Don’t let your blood sugars stay high as an excuse to stay warm. Take different precautions. Whether you need to adjust your basal rate or increase your bolus, do what's necessary to manage your diabetes in cold weather.
Those who suffer from neuropathy typically have less sensitivity in their feet which means they may not realise that their feet are extremely cold which could lead to frostbite. Wrap up super warm and do not walk around barefoot in the cold. You should also limit the amount of time your feet are exposed. The winter cold air can dry out and crack the skin, especially our feet, which could potentially lead to infections and wounds. You should apply moisturiser to your feet to help ensure your skin is healthy and check for any little cuts. If you notice there is a cut that is not healing, then you should seek advice from your doctor.
When we are trying to protect our insulin when traveling at extreme temperatures, the cold is another factor to contend with. I will recommend the same product I always recommend, and that is Frio bags. You know your insulin has frozen if it forms crystals and clumps and this will typically happen when it is exposed to temperatures of around 26°F (-3 °C).
It is extremely dangerous if you use insulin that has died, so avoid it at all costs.
If you are hiking with diabetes in the cold weather or conducting any sort of outdoor/exercise activity, then remember to wrap your Frio bag in something “warm” too, such as a jumper or scarf, as in extreme temperatures it could still freeze.
Your diabetes equipment can also stop working in cold temperatures. Just recently I was skiing in Austria and my actual diabetes blood sugar monitor would not work at the ski resort because it was too cold. Every time I tried to test it simply said: “temperature error, return the monitor to correct temperature then try again”.
However, fortunately, I had my FreeStyle Libre on me too, and it still scanned in the cold temperatures!
The specific working temperature of different CGMs, monitors etc varies, so you should check the manufacturer model/handbook that you received when you first got your device. It will indicate the temperature in there, but IF you have lost your copy (I instantly throw out manuals- whoops), then there is usually a digital copy available on the website, or simply drop your company a message.
Wrap your equipment in warm items. Girls, if you keep your insulin pump or diabetes monitor in your bra, it helps keep them warm thanks to the natural body temperature there.
If your testing device issues a “cold warning”, then turn it off, remove the batteries, and warm them up in your hands, as well as trying to warm your device. Then after a couple of minutes try again, usually, they start to work.
I know that there is nothing worse than taking off gloves and trying to test your blood sugar when it is freezing. Firstly, I struggle to get any blood out of my fingers, and secondly, it’s FREEZING! But, you still need to test.
A “solution” to this is the use of a CGM or device like the Freestyle Libre which doesn’t require fingerpricking, but this certainly isn’t a cost-friendly solution.
When it comes to managing your diabetes in cold weather, there is something you shouldn't rely on....how you feel.
When you’ve had diabetes for a long period of time, you can recognise the signs of feeling high and low on your body right away. But, when you are in extreme temperatures these feelings become mixed up and confusing. You can get false hyper and hypo warnings, so TEST!
Follow these tips to help you manage your blood sugar and diabetes in the cold weather! If you have any more tips for managing your diabetes in the cold weather then comment below.
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