Beware: Summer heat, sunburns and type 2 diabetes don’t mix

sunburnt skin

It won’t be long until cool, wet spring days turn into hot, dry, or humid summer weather. If you plan to spend time outdoors basking in the summer sun, beware if you have type 2 diabetes. Summer heat along with getting a painful sunburn can significantly affect your blood sugar levels and not in a good way.

But like most things, mindful moderation of time spent outdoors during summer can still be enjoyable when managing blood sugar levels safely.

Summer heat’s effect on blood sugars

When the summer sun rays bear down bringing a warming glow, it’s very tempting to step outdoors to enjoy this time of year. But be advised to do so in moderation. Whether environmental conditions are hot and humid or more hot and dry, if you have neglected to keep well-hydrated, dehydration can quickly spike your blood sugars by 50 mg/dl or over 200 mg/dl.

The reason why is simple: Let’s say you spend the afternoon watching a parade on a 95-degree day with 80 percent humidity. But you forgot to bring water or are consuming very little during the event.  Due to the weather conditions and the lack of fluid you should be drinking, your body becomes dehydrated. Dehydration means there is not enough fluid in your tissues and bloodstream which means the glucose in your bloodstream is becoming more concentrated, resulting in a significant jump in your blood glucose numbers. Even if you haven’t eaten much food and you’re being physically active, blood sugar numbers will still soar. Minimal to moderate dehydration is all it takes to rapidly spike blood glucose.

Fortunately, you can still enjoy outdoor summer activities without worry about dehydration and high blood sugar readings by taking a few precautionary steps:

  • Avoid dehydration by drinking plenty of water before stepping outdoors and continuing to do so while in the summer heat.
  • Check your blood sugar frequently when in hot weather keeping an eye on how your levels are behaving
  • If you do experience dehydration, seek shade or shelter to get out of the summer heat and drink some water.
  • Remember, part of the high blood sugar is simply concentrated sugar or glucose due to insufficient water intake, which is why it’s important to drink water to rehydrate.

Why sunburns can increase blood sugar levels

Everyone knows that spending time outdoors, especially during the summer, can result in painful sunburns. Anyone who will be spending time outside on a warm summer day should automatically reach for sunscreen to protect the skin. But this is particularly sage advice for anyone with type 2 diabetes.

Getting sunburned when you have type 2 diabetes can result in higher blood sugar levels than normal. Why is this? Due to the intense damage caused by sunburn to the cells of your skin, this creates stress on the body causing a great deal of inflammation along with pain from the burn. When inflammation and pain levels are high, your body will need to manage that in order to heal. A hormone called cortisol helps manage both inflammation and healing. However, the release of cortisol also releases more glucose into the bloodstream. The combination of high cortisol levels to fight increased inflammation along with pain will cause blood sugar levels to rise.

If sunburn is severe, this can also lead to heat exhaustion and dehydration. As discussed previously, dehydration drives up blood glucose levels; dehydration is also stressful to the body which further increases blood sugar spikes.

It’s also important to know that certain diabetes medications can increase the risk of sunburn. Sulfonylureas, such as glimepiride, glipizide, and glyburide, are commonly prescribed medications for treating type 2 diabetes that increase sensitivity to the sun. If you take any of these medications, discuss with your doctor your risk for sunburn.

In the meantime, here are important tips to do to avoid sunburn:

  • Apply sunscreen of at least 30 SPF on all exposed skin, including the back of the ears and neck and tops of your feet. Do this at least 20 minutes before going outdoors.
  • Wear UV-rated sunglasses to protect your eyes. Even your eyes can get sunburned which can be painful.
  • Wear loose-fitting, lightweight, light-colored clothes to allow perspiration to evaporate. Keeping skin covered with this type of clothing furthers protects it from damaging UV sun rays and helps keep your body temperature from rising.
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat to protect your hands, face, and neck and also for keeping your head cool and overall body temperature down.
  • Avoid going barefoot. Walking on hot pavement or sand can burn the bottoms of your feet. This can raise body temperature which can raise blood glucose levels.
  • Avoid being outdoors between 11 am and 3 pm when the sun’s UV rays are most intense.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking mainly water or unsweetened tea.
  • Monitor your blood sugars by checking them more frequently in order to manage them better.

Treat sunburn by doing the following:

  • Get indoors or in the shade to cool your body down.
  • Apply a soothing lotion like aloe vera to the skin that is sunburned. This helps reduce pain and irritation or try taking a cool shower (not cold) to soothe skin and to lower body temperature.
  • For pain and inflammation, consider taking an over-the-counter pain reliever but check with your doctor first.
  • Keep a close eye on your blood glucose readings more frequently.
  • Seek your healthcare provider’s advice if you experience blisters from the sunburn or if you are having symptoms of heat exhaustion or severe dehydration.
Beware: Summer heat, sunburns and type 2 diabetes don’t mix
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Dr. David Samadi

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Dr. David Samadi