As Qatar’s hot and humid summer months can often be challenging for individuals with diabetes, extra care must be taken during this period, according to Manal Othman, Director of Diabetes Education at Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC). 

The hot summer months can be challenging for patients with diabetes as extreme heat can affect blood sugar control. In general, diabetics feel the heat more than people who don’t have diabetes because many diabetes complications, such as damage to blood vessels and nerves, can affect the sweat glands. Diabetics also become dehydrated more quickly and hot temperatures can lead to sunburn, which can stress the body and raise blood sugar levels.

Manal Othman, Director of Diabetes Education at HMC.
Manal Othman

According to Othman, dehydration can be one of the greatest threats to an individual with diabetes because, in addition to causing blood glucose levels to rise, it can also inhibit the absorption of injected insulin. She said that the effects of dehydration aren’t always obvious.

Staying hydrated is important for everyone but this is especially important for individuals with diabetes. Once a person with diabetes experiences uncontrolled blood sugar levels or heat exhaustion, it can be difficult to get glucose levels back under control. We advise patients to be cautious during the summer months and to recognise the symptoms of heat-related illness, which can include dizziness, fainting, excessive thirst or excessive sweating.’

She stresses the importance of seeking medical attention for heat-related illness and recommends patients carry small bottles of water with them and test their blood sugar levels frequently.

Hot temperatures can cause blood sugar levels to fluctuate suddenly, and this is especially true if an individual is involved in physical exercise. Physical activity is key to managing diabetes, but we don’t recommend being active outdoors during the hottest part of the day or when the heat index is high. Get out early in the morning or in the evening when temperatures are lower, or spend some time walking around an air-conditioned mall.’

Othman recommends plenty of caffeine-free fluids or water and carry their medications with them while away from home. She stresses the importance of ensuring that insulin, glucose metres, and test strips are safely stored during times of high heat and humidity.

She also warns about the dangers of sunburn, saying heat and sunburn place additional stress on the body, which raises blood sugar levels. She said that sunburn can also cause inflammation and may result in increased insulin resistance.

We tell our patients to avoid sunburn and to use a good broad-spectrum sunscreen and wear sunglasses and hat when out in the sun. We also recommend they don’t go barefoot, even on the beach or at the pool.’

Wearing loose-fitting, lightweight, and light-coloured clothing can also be an effective strategy for beating the summer heat, according to Othman.

Diabetes-Related Skin Conditions

Diabetes-related skin conditions are another notable concern during the warmer months, with bacterial infections, fungal infections, diabetic blisters, rashes, sores, and itching, being more common when the heat and humidity are high. Some skin problems can also be a warning sign. Most diabetes-related skin conditions can be prevented or treated easily if detected early.

It is important for individuals with diabetes to keep their skin dry and clean. Perspiring, summer activities, and excessive sun exposure can trigger a number of diabetes-related skin conditions, according to Othman. Throughout the year, but especially during the hotter months, it is important for diabetics to inspect their skin daily to look for irregularities and to report any issues to their doctor immediately.

Othman adds that frequent monitoring is the key to well-managed diabetes as it can allow a patient to take appropriate action sooner and avoid a diabetic emergency. She adds that in cases where the individual has been physically active, it is important to continue monitoring blood sugar levels for several hours, as their blood sugar may be affected for several hours after the activity ends. She also recommends carrying identification that indicates their condition.

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