More tips for managing diabetes while traveling around the world from Cazzy Magennis, of Dream Big Travel Far!
Last time I wrote about managing your type 1 diabetes in the heat…but what about when we visit all those lovely cold destinations, or even managing winter at home?
Here is how to manage your blood sugar in cold weather!
Diabetes affects us all differently and some people find that their insulin doesn’t work as well in cold temperatures, meaning they find themselves with higher blood sugars.
Scientifically this has something to do with the cold temperature limiting blood supply to your veins and thus insulin into your body.
The simplest solution would be to keep yourself warm. When your body is exposed to extremely cold temperatures it can go into shock and stress mode.
When your body is under stress your blood sugars can rise, therefore making you feel more ill.
Take precautions when out in the cold by wearing extra layers of clothing, gloves and thermal wear. Don’t be silly and go out with your hair wet or think just because there is a bright sun shining that you’ll be okay.
If it’s cold you need to prepare.
Generally the higher altitude you go, the colder it gets. There are lots of different elements to contend with when hiking with diabetes because you need to adjust to the new altitude, the exercise and the cold.
Make sure you keep your insulin at the correct temperature because just like insulin can die when it’s too warm, it can also die when it’s too cold.
Insulin begins to freeze at around 26°F (-3 °C). When it freezes, it forms clumps and crystals. Under no circumstances can you use this insulin.
I’ve actually had a few near misses when I’ve put my insulin in hostel fridges. The fridges were turned up so high that my products started freezing, but thankfully I rescued them and all was okay.
I’ve recommended Frio bags before for keeping your insulin cool in the heat These bags will also keep your insulin at the recommended temperature in the cold.
Put your insulin in a Frio bag when hiking, but pack your Frio bag in a towel or piece of clothing and bury it within your rucksack. That’s what I did when hiking Torres Del Paine and despite the cold, my insulin survived the journey and lived to tell the tale!
The cold can also affect all our diabetic equipment. Insulin pumps, Blood testing monitors, Freestyle Libres, Omnipods, CGMs can only all function at certain temperatures.
You need to check the specific temperatures in your manufacturing guide that comes with your device to see what it can withstand.
If you’ve lost the copy you were given when you first received it, don’t fear (I have also), just pop onto their website and you can find a manual guide to download and bring with you on the go!
Wrap them in socks, sleeves or scarves, basically anything that will hold in heat. Lots of monitors will physically stop functioning at cold temperatures and when you try to switch them on it will give a warning sign something along the lines of “Temperature too low to test.”
If your device issues this warning sign, replace the battery and then rub it between your hands to warm it up. Then do the same with your piece of equipment; keep it close to your body.
If I feel my insulin pump getting cold, I place my pump in my bra, because there always seem to be heat in there!
Once you’ve warmed your device up, try it again and it may work. If it doesn’t, you should always have a spare monitor with you as a backup.
If everything has stopped working then you need to be serious and remove yourself from the situation and retreat. It’s not a matter of it will be okay, I’ll check when I am down…you could die, so if you can’t monitor, retreat.
Don’t rely on your feelings- Lots of us can predict or guess our blood sugars based on how we are feeling, but when you are in the cold you can get false hyper and hypo warnings, so always monitor.
This is particularly relevant if you experience neuropathy. Don’t stay outside for long durations in the cold and make sure your feet are layered with socks.
Those suffering from neuropathy will find it difficult to feel problems with their feet, such as frostbite.
So keep your feet warm!
Skiing is a popular cold climate activity and whilst it’s something I’ve yet to experience, I did ask around and get some top tips from fellow type 1 diabetic skiers!
Ensure you find somewhere warm when testing, and if your glucometer reports error messages, hold it under your armpit for a few minutes to increase warmth then try again.
Keep your insulin pump protected by wearing a waistband or a travel bra. If this is your first time skiing or it’s a casual thing, you’ll find it’s not as energetic as you may have initially thought.
A reduction of your long lasting insulin by ten to twenty percent in the morning is still advised for first timers.
Remember to always consult with your DSN or diabetes doctor before going out and have lots of sugar on hand.
Your blood glucose meter can freeze and stop working, so keep it in a backpack when not using it, or in a pouch when on your body.
Do you have any other tips for managing your type 1 diabetes in the cold? Then comment below and let me know!
Please remember, I am not a health professional and this advice is based on my own experience, so please consult your doctor or health professional before you try anything new with your diabetic care.