Caregivers Plan for Diabetes Care in Heat & Emergencies

If you or a loved one have diabetes, you know how important it is to have a care routine. Yet summer weather, with its high temperatures and extreme storms, can cause problems with that routine and make it more difficult to manage diabetes.

Diabetes makes it harder for your body to handle high heat and humidity. Changes in medication and what you eat and drink may need to be made when temperatures rise. During emergencies and natural disasters such as hurricanes or tornadoes, you may have other needs related to diabetes. Identify yourself as a person with diabetes so you can get appropriate care. If you’re a family member, caregiver, or health care provider for someone with diabetes, share this information with them.

High Heat

Hot weather—temperatures of 80°F (about 27°C) or above, especially with high humidity—can affect medication, testing supplies and your health. The heat index, which measures how hot it really feels by combining temperature and humidity readings, advises caution starting at 80°F with 40% humidity. Extreme heat is especially dangerous to people aged 65 and older, children younger than 4 years, people with mental illnesses, and people with chronic diseases such as diabetes.

Check medication package inserts to learn when high temperatures can affect them. Carry medications with you if you’ll need to take them while you’re away from home, and protect them from the heat. If you’re traveling with insulin, don’t store it in direct sunlight or in a hot car. Keep it in a cooler, but don’t place it directly on ice or on a gel pack. Check glucose meter and test strip packages for information on use during times of high heat and humidity. Heat can damage insulin pumps and other equipment. Don’t leave the disconnected pump or supplies in a hot car, by a pool, in the direct sun, or on the beach.

Drink plenty of fluids, especially water, to avoid dehydration. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty: it’s a sign you’re already dehydrated. Avoid sugar-sweetened drinks such as sweet tea and sodas.

  • If your doctor has limited how much liquid you can drink, ask what to do during times of high heat to stay hydrated.
  • Know the signs of heat-related illness and how to respond to symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment isn’t provided.
  • Wear sunscreen and use a lip balm with sunscreen.
  • Wear loose-fitting, lightweight, and light-colored clothing.
  • Get physical activity in air-conditioned areas, or exercise outside early or late in the day, during cooler temperatures.
  • Use your air conditioner or go to air-conditioned buildings in your community to stay cool.

What to Do During Emergencies

People with diabetes face extra challenges during emergencies and natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and tornadoes. If you’re evacuating—leaving your home to get away from a threat—or staying in an emergency shelter, let others know that you have diabetes so that they can help you take care of your health. If you have other health problems, such as chronic kidney disease or heart disease, let others know about those, too. Drink plenty of fluids, especially water. Safe drinking water may be hard to find in emergencies, but if you don’t drink enough water, you could develop serious medical problems. Heat, stress, high blood sugar, and some diabetes medicines such as metformin can cause you to lose fluid, which increases the chances you’ll become dehydrated.

Keep something containing sugar with you at all times, in case you develop dangerously low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). You may not be able to check blood sugar levels, so know the warning signs of low blood sugar. Pay special attention to your feet. Stay out of contaminated water, wear shoes, and examine feet carefully for any sign of infection or injury. Get medical treatment quickly for any injuries.

Planning for Emergencies

Prepare an emergency supply of food and water. Include an adequate supply of medicine and medical supplies in your emergency kit, enough for at least three days and possibly more, depending on your needs. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about storing prescription medicines such as heart and high blood pressure medicine and insulin. Plan how you’ll handle medicine that normally requires refrigeration, such as insulin. Check expiration dates on all medicine and supplies often so that you can change medicine and medical supplies in your emergency kit, to ensure they stay up to date. Keep copies of prescriptions and other important medical information, including your health care provider’s phone number, in your emergency kit. Keep a list of the types and model numbers of medical devices you use, such as an insulin pump, in the emergency kit.

  • If you have a child with diabetes who is in school or daycare, learn the school’s emergency plan. Work with them to ensure your child will have needed diabetes supplies in an emergency.
  • If you need regular medical treatments, such as dialysis, talk to your service provider about their emergency plans.
  • Make an emergency plan for you and your family.
  • Always wear identification that says you have diabetes.
  • If you take insulin, ask your doctor during a regular visit what to do in an emergency if you don’t have your insulin and can’t get more. If you take other medicines for diabetes, ask your doctor what to do during an emergency if you don’t have your medicine.