Winter Wonderland: Navigating Diabetes During the Winter

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Learn about caring for your diabetes in the cold weather

With colder weather upon us, it means it’s time for snowball fights and lots of extra layers. For people with diabetes, colder temperatures can also impact your blood glucose levels. We sat down with Erin Kelly MEd, BSN, RN, CDE, Adult Diabetes Educator at Joslin Diabetes Center, for advice on how to best navigate diabetes management during the winter.

Storing Insulin

While cold weather itself typically does not impact one’s blood glucose levels, cold temperatures can impact your insulin.

“Extremes in temperature can affect insulin, so you have to be careful to keep insulin at room temperature and out of heat, light or freezing,” explained Kelly.

It is also important to note that insulin should never be frozen, and if your insulin becomes frozen, then you should discard it.

According to Kelly, a good rule of thumb during extremely low temperatures is to keep your insulin on your body or in the same spaces you occupy in your house, like a bedside or dining room table. Keeping insulin away from light, cold windows or a drafty space is also helpful for storing it at the right temperature.

Unlike insulin, glucose does not need to be stored differently, with the exception of glucose gel, which may freeze if in the cold.

Cold weather can also cause damage to your insulin pump and/ or meter by leading to inaccurate readings or a failure to function. To prevent this, stay away from storing a pump or meter in your car during the winter. It is also helpful to keep your pump and meter close to your body as well.

“Treat these pieces of technology like you would your phone- you likely wouldn’t leave it in the cold car overnight,” says Kelly.

Preparing for a Snowstorm

Aside from cold temperatures, people with diabetes should also take additional precautions before a snowstorm or blizzard. Kelly recommends stocking up on extra supplies and insulin.  This includes: test strips, ketone strips (only for people with type 1 diabetes), all types of insulin prescribed, syringes and or pen needles, and some carbohydrate snacks in case of an episode of hypoglycemia.

Winter Activities

Winter sports, like skiing and snowboarding, are a great way to stay active during the winter months, but they can also be strenuous and cause rapid changes to your blood glucose levels. Checking your blood glucose levels before, during and after participating in a winter activity is to good way to ensure you stay in the safe range.

“Keep your meter or other diabetes technology, and medications in an inside coat/pant pocket so your body temperature keeps it warm and functional,” says Kelly.

Travel Tips

While this is not specific to only winter, Kelly cautions that if your insulin pen ever gets water in it from ice or slush, then you should throw it out and get a new one. Additionally, if you ever break a pen or vial of insulin while traveling, most insurers will replace the broken pen or vial with a one- time exception.

Whether you are preparing for a winter trip or getting ready for an upcoming blizzard, it is always helpful to know how to properly story insulin and make accommodations for extreme drops in temperatures.

Looking for some assistance better managing your diabetes during the winter? Consult with one of certified diabetes educators or call 617-309-2440 to make an appointment.

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