Diabetes: Staying ‘sun-safe’ when you need to manage blood sugar levels – expert advice

Diabetes type 2: Dr Zoe Williams discusses high blood sugar risks

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“Sitting in the sun for long periods can affect your diabetes because you’re not being very active, making blood sugar levels higher than usual,” said Dan Howarth. “On the flipside, if you take insulin to treat your diabetes, it will be absorbed more quickly from the injection site in warm weather, and this increases the risk of hypos.”

What’s hypos?

The NHS explained that hypo is short for hypoglycaemia, which means low blood sugar.

The condition mainly affects people who have diabetes, especially if they take insulin.

Early indications of low blood sugar include:

  • Sweating
  • Feeling tired
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling hungry
  • Tingling lips
  • Feeling shaky or trembling
  • A fast or pounding heartbeat (palpitations)
  • Becoming easily irritated, tearful, anxious or moody
  • Turning pale.

Untreated low blood sugar levels can lead to:

  • Weakness
  • Blurred vision
  • Confusion or difficulty concentrating
  • Unusual behaviour, slurred speech or clumsiness (like being drunk)
  • Feeling sleepy
  • Seizures or fits
  • Collapsing or passing out.

When a hypo occurs during sleep, you may suddenly wake up with a headache, may feel fatigued, and the sheets could be damp from sweat.

How to treat a hypo

If your blood sugar reading is less than 3.5mmol/L, follow these three steps:

  1. Have a sugary drink or snack
  2. Test blood sugar levels after 10 minutes
  3. You may need to eat a main meal.

Experts at Diabetes UK have share top tips to stay “sun-safe” if you have diabetes.

The first tip is to “check blood sugar levels”, even more so than normal, being prepared to adjust your diet or insulin dose because of the humid weather.

“If you plan on being active in the sun, like going for a swim, eat some extra carbohydrate at your meal before or as an extra snack,” the charity advised.

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“Check your levels beforehand and have a sugary snack if your levels are low,” it continued.

“Keep something sugary to hand too, such as your usual hypo treatment, just in case.”

Another tip to manage type 2 diabetes during the UK heatwave is to “keep meters and test strips away from the sun”.

Diabetes UK noted: “Extremes of temperature can also affect blood glucose meter and test strips.

“If you use these, keep your meter and test strips as close to normal room temperature as possible and out of direct sunlight.

“But don’t refrigerate them as cold temperatures can also lead to misleading results.”

For those who use insulin to treat their health condition, it’s key to store it correctly.

“If your blood sugar levels are consistently higher than expected, it’s worth considering whether your insulin could have been damaged in the sun,” Diabetes UK stated.

“Insulin, in the hot weather especially, is best kept in the fridge or a cool bag (taking care that it does not freeze).”

When insulin is damaged by the heat, it becomes cloudy, grainy, and sticks to the side of the glass.

If insulin is exposed to bright sunlight, it can take on a brownish colour – “do not use insulin that looks like this”.

The charity advised: “Speak to your GP or a healthcare professional if you’re unsure.”

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