Diabetes at the Beach: Tips to Stay Safe

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Diabetes at the Beach: Tips to Stay Safe

If you’re a beach-goer, you know that there’s nothing quite like the sand, sun, and surf on a bright summer day. But before you grab your towel and flip-flops and head out, make sure you’re prepared to deal with any potential challenges that can ruin your fun in the sun.

Sunshine and heat

It may go without saying, but we’ll say it anyway: wear sunscreen! Even if you stay under the umbrella most of the time, you’ll still get some exposure to harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. And this means a high risk of getting a painful sunburn, but longer term, your risk of skin cancer is greatly increased. Here’s how to protect yourself:

  • Use sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 30, advises The Cleveland Clinic — even if you don’t usually burn. Reapply sunscreen every two hours, especially after swimming or if you are sweating a lot.
  • If you can, avoid sun in the middle of day, between 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  • Wear protective clothing and a hat with a wide brim. Also, don’t forget the sunglasses!

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Keep your cool! There are a lot of reasons to make sure you don’t get overheated at the beach:

  • If you have damage to your blood vessels or nerves, your body may not cool effectively, according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). This can lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke, which is a medical emergency.
  • You may become dehydrated. Not drinking enough liquids can raise your blood sugar, and high blood sugars, in turn, can cause you to urinate more, leading to dehydration. Dehydration can lead to even higher blood sugars.
  • Summertime heat can also affect how your body uses insulin. Be sure to check your blood sugars often while you’re at the beach, and, if you take insulin, be aware that you might need to adjust your insulin (ask your provider or diabetes educator for guidance before you go to the beach, however). Heat can cause insulin to be absorbed more quickly, putting you at risk for hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).

Sunlight and heat can affect certain types of diabetes medicines: insulin and non-insulin injectables, such as GLP-1 agonists (e.g., Ozempic, Trulicity, Victoza, Byetta), and injectable glucagon. These medicines need to be kept cool or at room temperature in order to work properly. Light and heat can reduce their effectiveness.

  • Keep injectable medicines in a cooler bag, but make sure they don’t come in contact with ice or an ice pack, as that can cause your medicine to freeze.
  • Also, make sure never to leave insulin or non-insulin injectables in a hot car or exposed to direct sunlight. If you notice that your clear insulin becomes cloudy, and your cloudy insulin (such as NPH) looks grainy, it may be damage. Discard it and open a fresh insulin vial or pen.

Heat can also damage blood glucose meters and test strips, CGM (continuous glucose monitors), and insulin pumps. Again, keep these devices out of direct sunlight to prevent overheating.

Swimming and other beach activities

While some people plant themselves in their beach chair once they hit the sand, you might prefer to be more active. Swimming, surfing, boogie-boarding, volleyball, running, or strolling on the beach are some ways to enjoy your beach day. But realize that an increase in physical activity, combined with hot temperatures, may impact your blood sugars. Here’s how to help keep your blood sugars more stable:

  • Check your blood sugars regularly (or keep a close eye on your CGM) when you’re at the beach, especially before you go for a swim or join in on a volleyball game.
  • If you see that your glucose levels are on their way down, consider eating a snack to tide you over during your activity.
  • If you take insulin or diabetes pills called sulfonylureas, be sure to have treatment for hypoglycemia handy. Glucose tablets are convenient, easy, and won’t melt in the sun, but other good choices are juice boxes, glucose gel, or non-chocolate candy, such as jelly beans, gum drops, or fruit gummies.

Food and drinks

You’re bound to get hungry and thirsty when you’re at the beach. Instead of hitting the snack bar or packing bags of less-than-healthy snack foods, plan ahead and bring some healthier (and cheaper) options. The American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests these healthy snacks:

  • Raw or dry-roasted nuts
  • Pre-washed and cut fruits and vegetables
  • Whole-grain crackers
  • Roasted chickpeas
  • Trail mix

Other good options are:

  • Low-carb crackers and snack chips
  • Cheese sticks
  • Hardboiled eggs
  • Hummus
  • Nut butters
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Greek yogurt

Make sure to bring a cooler with an ice pack to keep perishable food nice and cool.

Also, stay hydrated. The sun, heat, and swimming can be dehydrating, even if you don’t feel thirsty or aren’t sweating much. Pack plenty of water or no-carb drinks, and remember that vegetables and fruits are good sources of water, too (especially watermelon, and 1 cup of watermelon has just 12 grams of carb!).

Go easy with alcohol. A cold beer can seem refreshing, but alcohol has a diuretic effect, which means that it causes you to urinate more, which can lead to dehydration, depending on how much alcohol you drink. Plus, too much alcohol and swimming are a dangerous combination, as your risk of drowning can increase with the more alcohol that you drink.

Insulin pumps and CGMs

Many insulin pumps and CGMs are water-resistant (meaning, you can go in the water with them), but make sure to read the user manual to make sure that swimming is OK. Also, keep in mind that water and sweating can cause your pump insertion set or CGM sensor to not stick well. You might need an additional adhesive, such as:

  • Skin Grip
  • Pump Peelz
  • GrifGrips
  • Skin Tac liquid adhesive

Foot care

Don’t forget to protect your feet while you’re at the beach. This is especially important if you have neuropathy or circulation issues in your legs or feet. Hot pavement, sand, shells, rocks, and broken glass are all hazards that you might encounter, and can cause irritation, burns, blisters, or cuts. Left untreated, these can escalate into more serious foot problems.

Avoid or limit the amount of time that you go barefoot. Wear sturdy sandals or beach shoes, and be sure to check your feet regularly during the day and after you get home. If you notice any cuts or sores that aren’t healing, or areas of redness, warmth, or swelling after a day at the beach (or at any time), see your health care provider promptly.

Want to learn more about managing diabetes in the summer? Read “Summertime: Hazardous for People With Diabetes?,” “Diabetes In Hot Weather — 12 Things to Know,” “Six Ways to Stay Cool When the Temperature Soars,” and “Summer Portion Control: From Beach to Barbecue.”

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES on social media

A Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator at Good Measures, LLC, where she is a CDE manager for a virtual diabetes program. Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition & Meal Planning, a co-author of 16 Myths of a Diabetic Diet, and has written for  publications including Diabetes Self-Management, Diabetes Spectrum, Clinical Diabetes, the Diabetes Research & Wellness Foundation’s newsletter, DiabeticConnect.com, and CDiabetes.com

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