Eight Ways to Manage Diabetes in Cold Weather

Cold weather can throw off your diabetes management. Here are eight ways winter can present a challenge, and what you can do to maintain your blood sugar control.

1. Be aware that cold environments can raise your A1C

A1C levels (a measure of average glucose over the previous 2–3 months) often increase in cold weather. To some degree, bodies seem to do this on their own, perhaps as an evolutionary adaptation that helps raise their freezing point to survive the cold, according to Sharon Moalem, MD, PhD.

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2. Stay out of the cold when you can

Pharmacist and diabetes educator Susan B. Sloane says that higher sugars may make you feel warmer in the cold, but they are still unhealthy. Sloane says, “Remember not to stay out long in extreme cold, especially if you have any cardiac issues or neuropathy. The cold weather can make blood thicker and more prone to clotting.”

3. Keep feet and hands warm

Diabetes may reduce circulation to feet, leaving them less able to keep warm in cold weather. Winter may increase your chances of infection and nerve pain in your feet.

Wear the warmest socks and well-fitting shoes or waterproof boots you can get. Pay extra attention to your foot care; inspect your feet carefully every day and use moisturizer if the skin is drying (except between the toes). Wear warm gloves or mittens.

4. Keep your diabetes supplies at the right temperature

Like extreme heat, extreme cold can affect your insulin and cause your blood glucose monitor to stop working properly. Joslin Diabetes Center advises not leaving supplies in the car in very cold weather.

The same applies to insulin vials, pens, and pumps. Cool is generally OK; very cold or freezing is not. Some experts advise keeping a Thermos of warm tea in your diabetes supply case — you have one of those, don’t you? — to keep supplies warm.

5. Be aware that cold hands can affect blood sugar readings

Joslin recommends washing your hands in warm water, then drying them carefully before testing.

6. Avoid colds and flus

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) points out that flu is much more dangerous for people with diabetes than for the general public. Diabetes makes it harder to fight the flu off, and blood sugars often go out of control due to illness.

The CDC gives several suggestions for avoiding the flu, including getting the flu vaccine, washing hands frequently, not touching your face, and avoiding close contact with people who are sick

Frequent use of hand sanitizers may help. My wife teaches in different elementary schools. She says there’s a dramatic difference between classrooms where students use sanitizers every time they come in, and those that don’t. Far fewer kids in the sanitizer rooms are out sick. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns that commercial sanitizers don’t really kill all dangerous germs, and washing with soap and water is better.

7. Do your best to avoid or treat depression

The British website Diabetes.co.uk says that cold and snow may keep you inside, leading to less sun exposure and less exercise. Both of those lacks can lead to depression, and depression interferes with diabetes management. Though the days start to get longer toward the end of December, we still get less sun in the winter.

Try to get sun when you can, or buy a sunlamp you can shine on yourself for roughly 30 minutes a day (the exact time range will depend on feedback from your doctor). Vitamin D may also help, as can talking to people you like or love.

If you think you may be getting depressed, you can take this two-minute depression inventory for a better idea. Reach out for help if you’re in the depressed range.

8. Keep moving any way you can

If you’re stuck inside by snowstorms or cold snaps, have exercises you can do at home. Exercise will help your blood glucose control and your mood.

Want to learn more about managing diabetes in the winter? Read “Wintertime High Blood Sugars: Causes and Solutions” and “Beating the Winter Blues.”