Things You Need to Know About Diabetes and Sunburn

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Sunburns are the worst. That hot, prickly pain where you can’t graze the burnt area without wincing and you feel like you’re actually on fire?  Not comfortable.  In New England, we have the benefits of hot summers and awesome beaches, but with that asset comes the need for constant reapplication of sunscreen to help protect our skin. 

As a kid, I had a few sunburns that were uncomfortable, and I always noticed a rise in my blood sugars for a few days.  Turns out, sunburns and high blood sugars unfortunately go hand in hand.  Sunburns are considered an injury to your skin, and just like with any other kind of injury, your body is under stress and duress while healing. 

So we want to respect our diabetes and keep our skin safe this summer, right?  But how?  Here are some tips on having fun in the dog days of summer while still maintaining solid diabetes management skills:

Wear sunscreen! The best way to deal with a sunburn is to prevent one.  Make sure you’re wearing sunscreen anytime you’re outside, even in the winter, as the sun can affect your skin all year round.  Wear sunscreen with at least a 30 SPF (sun protection factor), and reapply if you’ve been outside for a while.  (Also be sure to apply to seemingly out-of-the-way areas like the tops of your feet or the part in your hair.)

Watch for wounds.  If you have a wound on your skin, don’t slather it with sunscreen to protect it. Instead, make sure that the wound is cleaned and properly bandaged to ensure that germs won’t invade the affected skin, in addition to keeping the sun’s rays off it.  If the wound looks wonky, check in with your doctor before exposing it to any sun, sand, or summer chaos. 

Cover up.  Keep yourself covered when possible, and lean on lighter colored fabrics, as dark colors attract the sun more. Hats and long sleeves provide excellent coverage, and don’t forget about protecting your eyes with UVA and UVB blocking sunglasses. (And if you’re wearing your pump with your bathing suit, don’t be afraid to flaunt it!  But also beware that your pump can become too hot in the sun, so be mindful of how the hot, hot heat can affect your insulin.  For tips on managing diabetes devices this summer, check out this article.)

Watch your feet.  People with diabetes are constantly being lectured about their feet, but there’s good reason for that.  Did you know that you can get a 2nddegree burn on the bottom of your feet simply from walking on hot sand in the summer?  (I know!)  Make the most of protective footwear and be sure to inspect your feet every night to make sure everything looks healthy.  (And if you notice an injury, be sure to make an appointment to see your clinician.)

Check your meds.  In addition to making sure that your insulin doesn’t cook in the summer heat, you also need to know if you’re taking a medication that can make you more sensitive to the sun.  Did you know that some blood pressure medications and sulfonylureas can make you more prone to sunburns? Do a little research about the meds you’re taking to see if they warrant an uptick in SPF.

If you do get burned… there’s a plan.  Apply a moisturizer containing aloe vera or soy to the area to help soothe the skin (and avoid anything that includes petroleum products, like benzocaine or lidocaine, as they actually trap the heat in your skin). Stay well-hydrated in order to combat the discomfort, and if the pain is tough to tolerate, consider taking ibuprofen (but check with your doctor before taking any medication).  And keep careful tabs on your blood sugars, as the burn can cause hyperglycemia.  Consult with your medical team if you’re having trouble getting your blood sugars to come down. 

If you have tips and tricks for managing diabetes when the weather is hot, we’d love to hear them! Leave your thoughts in the comments, or visit our Facebook page and join the discussion

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