Here comes summer! This year, summer will likely be very different for most of us, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. But what probably won’t change are the long, lazy, hot days — and the accompanying nuisances that can make this time of year uncomfortable and sometimes even dangerous for people who have diabetes.
If you’ve ever been stung by a bee, you know how painful it can be. Bees and other stinging insects use their stingers for defense and predation. If a bee perceives you to be a threat, say, if you happen upon its hive, it will most likely go into attack mode and try to sting you. When a bee stings, it releases pheromones that get other bees into the act and the attack can quickly escalate.
When a bee stings, it inserts its stinger into the skin, and that stinger releases a venom called apitoxin. The stinger tears loose from the bee, but it continues to release apitoxin. As if the pain weren’t bad enough, many people are allergic to the venom: they may have trouble breathing, have chest tightness or develop swelling elsewhere on the body. A severe allergic reaction, called anaphylaxis, can occur within minutes, and requires immediate medical attention. Sometimes the venom can lead to non-allergic symptoms, such as nausea, dizziness, faintness and seizures. Luckily, for most people, the swelling and pain from a bee sting will disappear in a few hours after being stung.
A bee sting in and of itself may not directly affect blood glucose levels, but the reaction to the sting may. It’s possible to develop an infection from a sting, which, in turn can lead to high glucose levels. Interestingly, bee venom is being studied as a way to lower blood sugars and possibly prevent complications in people with diabetes.
If you get stung by a bee, try to remove the stinger by scraping over it with your fingernail as soon as possible (wasps, yellow jackets and hornets do not leave a stinger). Wash the site with soap and water and place a cool pack on the site to reduce swelling. Pain can be treated with ibuprofen or acetaminophen. The American Academy of Dermatology Association recommends going to the emergency room if swelling spreads to other parts of the body or if you develop trouble breathing, dizziness, nausea or hives. If you’ve been prescribed an emergency epinephrine injector, such as EpiPen or Auvi-Q, use that immediately. You should also go to the emergency room if you’ve been stung multiple times.
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) provides several ways on their website to help prevent getting stung in the first place. These include: wearing light-colored clothing, avoiding perfumed soaps and lotions, and wearing clothing to cover as much of your body as possible. For more tips, visit the CDC website.
One of the downsides of the summer months is mosquitoes. At the very least, they’re annoying with their high-pitched, never-ending hum. At their worst, they can transmit potentially deadly diseases such as West Nile virus, Zika virus, Eastern equine encephalitis and malaria.
Mosquitoes (“skeeters”) are the vampires of the insect world. They want your blood. To be more accurate, only female mosquitoes bite: they need the protein in the blood in order to develop their eggs. When the female mosquito is needing some blood, she uses the tip of her proboscis to pierce the skin, locate a blood vessel and draw up blood. At the same time, the mosquito injects saliva which helps to prevent blood from clotting. The saliva causes your body to release histamines, which causes that interminable itch.
You may have noticed that you are a mosquito magnet, while other people seem to deflect mosquitoes. There’s definitely some truth to the fact that mosquitoes gravitate to some people more than others. For example, some people produce more chemicals, like lactic acid and ammonia, that attract mosquitoes. Mosquitoes also go for people with type O blood more so than those with type A or B blood. Pregnant women, people who are overweight, and people who are drinking alcohol and/or exercising also seem to attract mosquitoes.
If you get bitten by a mosquito, wash the site with soap and warm water. You can sooth the bite by applying a cold pack or a cool cloth; some people find that applying a paste of baking soda and water, calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream also helps to ease the itch. If you’re particularly bothered, talk with your doctor about taking an over-the-counter antihistamine, such as Benadryl. Just be careful, as antihistamines can make you feel drowsy and less aware of high or low blood sugar.
There are several ways to lower your chances of getting mosquito bites. The CDC recommends the use of insect repellants, such as DEET, picaridin, and oil of lemon eucalyptus. In addition, wear long-sleeved shirts and pants; use screens on windows and doors; once a week, empty out items that hold water, such as buckets, birdbaths and wading pools; and keep grass and plants well-trimmed.
There’s much fun to be had in the summer sun, but the downside is a risk of sunburn. Besides looking like a boiled lobster and dealing with the pain, a sunburn can increase the risk of skin cancer, lead to wrinkles and dark spots, and cause premature aging of the skin.
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the culprit when it comes to sunburns. When the skin is exposed to sunlight for too long, blood is sent to the skin to help heal the damage, turning the skin red. Blisters may form if the burn is more severe.
You know if you have a sunburn. In addition to turning pink or red, your skin will likely feel warm or hot to the touch and be painful. You skin may even become swollen, and blisters may develop. You can get a sunburn on any part of your body that is exposed — even your scalp, lips and earlobes are fair game. If a sunburn is particularly severe, you may have sun poisoning. Symptoms of sun poisoning include:
· Having a headache, fever and chills along with the red skin and pain
· Feeling nauseated
· Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
· Being short of breath
Sunburns can also raise your blood sugar levels by triggering the release of stress hormones. Checking your blood sugar more often than usual is important if you have a sunburn. If you develop blisters or an infection from a sunburn, your doctor may prescribe a steroid medication which may also raise your blood sugars.
If get a sunburn, take action as soon as possible. Moisturize and soothe your skin with aloe vera. If your burn is particularly painful, check with your doctor about applying hydrocortisone cream. Try ibuprofen or acetaminophen to help ease the pain. Drink plenty of fluids. Taking frequent cool showers can also provide some relief. See your doctor if your skin has blistered, if you have a high fever, headache, confusion or nausea, if you have yellow drainage from blisters or are seeing red streaks from the blisters, or if your symptoms are not improving within a few days. And avoid going out in the sun.
Use a sunscreen with a SPF of at least 30, and be sure to apply it regularly, even on cloudy days. Wear a hat, sunglasses and protective clothing when outside. As much as possible, avoid going out during the hottest part of the day (generally between 10 a.m and 3 p.m.)
Guess what else summertime can bring? Fungal infections! It’s not something that most of us talk about or even want to think about, but the reality is that fungus really loves the warm, moist weather that summer brings. Typical fungal infections include athletes’ foot; ringworm; jock itch; and yeast infections that affect the vagina, penis and the skin.
Fungal infections that affect the skin, such as athlete’s foot, can cause itching, stinging and burning; peeling or cracking skin; and redness or blisters. Jock itch is an itchy red rash that occurs in the groin area, and can cause chaffing, burning and irritation. The skin may crack and flake, as well. Ringworm is characterized by a red, ring-shape patch of skin that is itchy — it’s also highly contagious. A vaginal yeast infection causes itching, swelling, soreness and burning in and surrounding the vagina, along with a white or yellow discharge; penile yeast infections may include a rash, itching and burning on the penis. A skin yeast infection can occur in skin folds or in the navel and also cause itching, burning, a rash and oozing.
Contact your healthcare provider if you have any symptoms that could indicate a fungal infection. You’ll likely be prescribed an anti-fungal medication, either topically, orally or as a suppository. In addition, keeping the affected area clean and dry is important.
Wearing loose clothing and underwear made from natural fibers can help prevent fungal infections. Keeping your feet clean and dry, and avoiding going barefoot can lessen the risk of athlete’s foot. Avoid sharing towels and clothing to reduce the risk of ringworm. Women can prevent yeast infections by wearing cotton underwear, using unscented products (soaps, tampons, pads), and avoiding feminine hygiene products such as sprays and powders.
Keep in mind that high blood glucose levels increase the risk of yeast infections, as glucose causes an overgrowth of yeast. In fact, recurring yeast infections are often an early sign of undiagnosed diabetes.
Don’t let these summertime problems ruin your summer! Protect yourself using the tips above. Seek medical attention sooner rather than later, and do your best to keep your blood sugar levels within your target range.
Want to learn more about managing diabetes in the warmer months? Read “Summertime: Hazardous for People With Diabetes?” “Summertime Skin Care” and “Summer Portion Control: From Beach to Barbecue.”
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