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Diabetes and Summer Travel: Special Considerations

by IBD Medical on September 12, 2023


Summer is a time for relaxation, exploration, and adventure. However, for individuals with diabetes, traveling during the hot summer months can present unique challenges. Managing diabetes effectively requires careful planning and attention to detail, and this becomes even more crucial when dealing with the impact of high temperatures. In this article, we will explore how hot weather can affect diabetes management and offer practical solutions to ensure a safe and enjoyable summer travel experience.


The Heat-Diabetes Connection

Hot weather can significantly impact diabetes management in several ways: 

  1. Insulin Sensitivity - High temperatures can increase insulin sensitivity, making it easier for the body to absorb insulin. This can lead to lower blood sugar levels, increasing the risk of hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar).
  1. Dehydration - A lower water content in the body results in a higher concentration of blood sugar. Dehydration can lead to an imbalance in your electrolyte levels, which in turn can heighten the likelihood of developing diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA).
  1. Storage of Medications - Heat can damage insulin and other diabetes medications if they are not stored properly. This can compromise their effectiveness.
  1. Changes in Routine - Traveling often disrupts daily routines, including meal timing and physical activity, which can make it more challenging to manage blood sugar levels.


Practical Tips for Summer Travel with Diabetes


  1. Plan Ahead - Research your destination's climate and prepare accordingly. Check weather forecasts, and pack enough diabetes supplies to last your trip. Carry extra medication in case of delays.  For those using insulin pumps and CGMs, it's wise to prepare for the worst-case scenario. Always carry syringes and a glucometer as backups in case there's a technology malfunction.
  1. Stay Hydrated - Drink plenty of water throughout the day to prevent dehydration. Be mindful of alcohol and caffeine consumption, as they can contribute to dehydration. Consider incorporating electrolytes into your routine as they can aid in faster body rehydration and help prevent the onset of Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA).
  1. Protect Medications - Store insulin and other diabetes medications in the a cooling bag such as one of the Glucology cooling bag or a thermos with ice packs to prevent exposure to extreme heat. Avoid leaving medications in a hot car or direct sunlight. Ensure that your accommodation, whether a rental or hotel, is equipped with a refrigerator. If you are camping, be prepared with a cooler stocked with ice.
  1. Monitor Blood Sugar Levels - Keep a close eye on your blood sugar levels, especially in the first few days of your trip when your routine may be disrupted. Carry a glucose meter, test strips, and extra batteries. If you have a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) or an insulin pump, you might consider using over-patches to help secure your sensor and insets more firmly. Over-patches can be particularly helpful in preventing displacement due to sweat and water exposure.
  1. Adapt Your Medication - Consult your healthcare provider about potential adjustments to your insulin or medication doses while traveling in hot weather. They can provide guidance on managing changes in insulin sensitivity.
  1. Carry Snacks - Always have a source of fast-acting carbohydrates on hand, such as glucochews, glucose tablets or gels, to treat low blood sugar episodes (hypoglycaemia) quickly. It's essential to carry small snacks, such as granola bars, protein bars, fruit, trail mix, or jerky, in your bag to mitigate the risk of hypoglycaemia, particularly when meals might be delayed. This will help ensure you have a quick source of glucose readily available should your blood sugar levels drop unexpectedly.
  1. Wear MedicAlert Jewelry - In case of an emergency, wearing a medical alert bracelet or necklace that indicates your diabetes can help first responders provide appropriate care.
  1. Travel Insurance - Consider purchasing travel insurance that covers medical emergencies and lost diabetes supplies. It can provide peace of mind in case unexpected situations arise. 
  1. Inform Travel Companions - Make sure your travel companions are aware of your diabetes and know how to assist you in case of an emergency. Inform others about the location of your glucose tablets and glucagon emergency kit. Educate them on how to operate the glucagon emergency kit and ensure their confidence in using it. Additionally, be aware: glucagon emergency kits are ineffective if alcohol has been consumed, so it's essential to have an alternative strategy. If you become unconscious, instruct your companion to apply honey, syrup, or sugar to the area between your gums and cheek until medical help arrives. It's crucial that they inform healthcare professionals about your alcohol consumption so they can provide the appropriate care.
  1. Carry Documentation - Keep copies of your prescriptions, a letter from your healthcare provider explaining your condition and treatment, and a list of emergency contacts. Keep a hard copy of your prescription on hand, just to be safe.

Summer travel can be a wonderful experience, and having diabetes shouldn't hold you back. With careful planning and preparation, you can enjoy your vacation while effectively managing your condition. Always consult with your healthcare team before traveling, as they can provide personalised guidance to ensure your diabetes management is tailored to your specific needs. By following these tips and staying vigilant, you can have a safe and enjoyable summer adventure.


 Kelsie Patterson courageously faced her own diagnosis of type 1 diabetes with determination and drive, pushing her to pursue a multi-disiplinary approach to become a Registered Dietitian, Certified Diabetes Care & Educator Specialist, and Certified Personal Trainer. Her passion for helping others motivated her to start "The Diabetes Dietitian" where she works directly with people managing type 1 diabetes to gain control over their blood sugars in order to achieve any life goals. 

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