Extreme weather may sometimes bring the potential for hazardous heat waves or natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, wildfires or other events. Being prepared is a good idea for anyone, but people living with diabetes may want to take added precaution – with both blood sugar management and diabetes supplies. (Be sure to talk to your health care provider if you have questions about your diabetes care.)
As storm season approaches, The DX looks back on interviews with people living with diabetes who shared tips and insights after living through extreme weather conditions and events.
Beating the heat
Summer may be a great time for outdoor activities like a day at the beach or lake, a picnic in the park, or just relaxing in the backyard with family or friends. But extreme heat and humidity may affect your body and any diabetes-related equipment you may use.
A Mayo Clinic study found that more than half of people living with diabetes were not aware of the effect of heat, and waited too long to protect themselves. The study authors suggested that people living with diabetes check blood sugar levels more frequently during the day while watching for signs of heat exhaustion such as excessive sweating, dizziness or fainting, and to keep diabetes supplies and medications in an insulated bag with a cold pack. (Read more tips for beating the heat.)
Catherine Price, a journalist and DX contributor who lives with type 1 diabetes, said that she takes extra precaution on humid days. “When it’s really humid out … the air is already full of water, and sweat, unable to evaporate, doesn’t cool you as effectively.” She said that she stays hydrated with sugar-free beverages and tests her blood glucose more often.
The time to prepare
Tornado season peaks for most of the US in April, but the unpredictable storms have been recorded during all months of the year, with many touching down in the country’s northern states throughout the summer.
The Atlantic coast hurricane season officially begins in June and peaks in early September, although some have hit as early as May or as late as December.
The American Diabetes Association recommends being prepared in advance, with a plan in place that lists all of the steps you will take in an emergency, including identifying a safe place to go in case of an evacuation and someone to contact. They suggest that the whole family review and practice the plan often to keep it fresh in mind.
Read more: Preparation tips from the Association.
When a weather disaster strikes, it may cut off access to food, clean water or electricity for a few hours or a few days, and stores can quickly sell out of supplies following emergency warnings. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) offers a thorough checklist of items you might want to have on hand at home, including at least three days’ worth of food, water and medications; a first aid kit; and battery-operated flashlights and radios. (Read and print the CDC’s complete preparedness checklist.)
T1 d-blogger Scott Estrin, who weathered Hurricane Sandy in 2012, said that he felt ready for the storm because “I use a mail-order pharmacy and refill prescriptions in large quantities when they come due for a refill, so I’m always prepared. I also have spare meters and my previous insulin pump, which I kept with me as a backup just in case. I also had two or three jars of glucose tablets around the house.”
Other supplies that may be worth having at the ready include an insulin cooling case, copies of prescriptions for all medications, and extra test strips, ketone strips, insulin pump supplies and alcohol wipes.
Prepare for what you don’t think you’ll need
Before Hurricane Sandy hit, Scott set his refrigerator and freezer to their coldest settings, “so if the power went out, my insulin would stay cold for a little bit longer, hopefully.” But Scott hadn’t bought extra batteries, and on the second night without power, he had to change his insulin pump by candlelight.
“I brought a candle into the bathroom so some of the light would reflect off the mirror. It was a slow process.”
Scott’s electricity was out for a total of ten days, and he and his family wound up staying with an aunt and uncle an hour away who still had power.
“My takeaway is don’t be prepared for what you think might happen; be prepared for what you don’t think might happen.”
“I got to my door, and found my apartment torn to shreds, like everybody else’s,” Dr. P. remembered. She said called her mother, who told her to check her blood sugar. “I couldn’t believe I had just told her a tornado has destroyed my home, and she was making me promise to check my glucose when we hung up the phone. But I checked it, and sure enough I was having a low.”
Firefighters permitted Dr. P. five minutes to get what she needed from her apartment; she took her diabetes supplies and her laptop. Because she had renter’s insurance, she was able to stay in a hotel room with a kitchen until she found a new apartment.
“My first thoughts were to help other people in that moment,” she recalled, “but it was pivotal for me to learn that as a diabetic, I have to put myself first to make sure I’m okay.”
In addition to carefully monitoring blood sugar levels after a disaster, the CDC recommends drinking plenty of water to avoid dehydration, taking care of your feet by wearing shoes and staying away from contaminated water, and wearing medical identification so emergency personnel may better identify and address any medical needs that may arise. (See more tips for diabetes care before and after a disaster or other emergency.)
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Scott Estrin and Dr. P. received no compensation for their interviews on Discuss Diabetes; Catherine Price is a paid contributor to The DX. All opinions contained in this post reflect those of the interviewees and/or contributors, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.
“Certified Diabetes Educator” and “CDE” are certification marks owned and registered by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (NCBDE). NCBDE is not affiliated in any way with Sanofi US. NCBDE does not sponsor or endorse any diabetes-related products or services.
© 2016 The DX: The Diabetes Experience