Diabetes in the Winter
Cold weather can impact diabetes. Here are some tips from Jewels Doskicz to help you manage better in the winter.
In the winter months when you’re thinking “brr, it’s cold outside,” a light bulb should also be flashing about the potential impacts the weather could have on your blood sugar and diabetes tools.
How cold affects blood sugar
Cold weather can cause abnormal blood sugar fluctuations and cause some diabetes management setbacks.
Cold temperatures that cause you to shiver, and burn calories, can also cause low blood sugars.
Keep your hands and feet as warm as possible for circulatory health.
Cold hands can make it harder to check your blood sugar. Warm your hands before trying to obtain a finger stick, or if allowable, use an alternative site such as the palm.
How cold affects diabetes tools
Winter, and its cold temperature variables, demand that one thinks about keeping their diabetes gadgets safe. This includes any wearables that are attached to you – or any that you may plan on attaching. Knowing what your “action items” are in cold temperatures can save you a serious hassle in the long run. The unpredictability of winter can affect all areas of diabetes care from the functionality of insulin/medications, glucometers and glucometer strips, to insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors.
It’s important to keep in mind that it doesn’t take negative degree temperatures to create an impact on supplies and hardware. These cold temperatures can single-handedly break down insulin, which is why it’s so important to store and protect it well. Leaving your glucometer or insulin/medications in your car, in the winter, shouldn’t be your go-to practice (in the glovebox, purse, fanny pack, etc.).
Novolog insulin should be stored above 36 degrees Fahrenheit, for example.
On the flip side, I will readily admit that I have fallen victim to the cold - on occasion. I’ve been forced to warm my glucometer “back to functioning temperature” under an armpit while skiing. Diabetes isn’t always top of mind. While the glucometer may say “I’m too cold to use,” glucometer strips are left to interpretation, as they don’t come with a temperature gauge. User beware, you may have altered their normal capabilities that you have grown to love and trust.
Test strips for your Diathrive glucometer have a recommended storage temperature of 41-86°F.
Some diabetes things will always have the potential to catch us off-guard. With the best of intentions, there can be terrible results. No one is perfect. Because of this, I’ve changed my insulin storage practice in hotel rooms. Those dormitory-style small fridges with an open-freezer space can be temperamental. I don’t use them because I’ve destroyed my insulin the day before a bike race with temps that dipped too low inside. And really, who wants the hassle of spoiled insulin? It’s not just the expense – it’s the ensuing high blood sugars, pharmacy logistics, and everything else. Ugh.
If your fast-acting insulin has turned cloudy or has any floating particles that you can see, it has started to break down. The insulin may still work, but it will not have the same effectiveness.
With all diabetes supplies I travel with, for my daughter and myself, I guard my insulin like I do my wallet – with my life. Here are some tried-and-true tips for protecting your diabetes supplies from the elements:
Keep your insulin pump as close to your skin as possible
Tuck your tubing in! Insulin pump tubing that is left to hang outside of your protected body temperature is bound to encounter problems in freezing temperatures (think skiing, shoveling snow, etc.)
Store your glucometer and glucose strips inside of your winter jacket. If you have an interior pocket, that’s even better.
If your insulin is delivered to your doorstep, follow the package on the delivery company’s website. Be home when it arrives to attend to it.
Diabetes medications taken by mouth are also susceptible to cold. Ask your pharmacist if you’re uncertain about safe storage.
Consider keeping your pockets warm with disposable hand warmers.
Investigate your choices. For example, Tandem insulin pumps have a temperature sensor that warns users when temps dip below 35 degrees Fahrenheit. OmniPod is tubeless and is worn against the skin.
Supplies have storage recommendations - learn what yours are.
When you travel, always bring your supplies in your carry-on and bring extras.
With diabetes, anything can happen, but with a little planning and forethought, most of the frustrations can be avoided. What are your wintertime tips and tricks?
About Jewels Doskicz:
Jewels Doskicz is an Arizona-based RN with 22 years of clinical experience caring for the entire age spectrum. She is a passionate patient advocate, health consultant and long-distance cyclist. As a health writer, she covers a range of topics, including diabetes, health tech and treatments that are changing the face of health care. Follow Jewels on Twitter @She_Sugar