Managing diabetes in the cold

I think the cold weather followed me back from Iceland! It’s been chilly here in Arizona and it’s making me think about all of the special considerations I had to make for managing my diabetes in the freezing cold. Here’s some of my tips:

Storing insulin

Don’t let your insulin freeze! I can tell you that nothing’s a bigger bummer than having to toss a perfectly good vial of insulin because it’s frozen. The freezing temperature denatures the proteins in the insulin making it not work correctly. Keep your insulin in an insulated pouch like this one, or keep it in an inner pocket of a backpack. As a general rule when I travel, I always keep my insulin in two different places, just in case something happens to a bag like it getting lost, stolen, or in the case of cold weather, frozen.

Electronic Devices

Electronic devices don’t seem to like the extreme cold.

In general, battery life is shortened temporarily in the cold. I’ve seen this with my cell phone before and it’s totally a thing! I always bring a spare glucometer just in case, and I actually had both my meter and my spare meter show low battery as soon as we got there! When we got home, the low battery image was gone. So note to self (and to you), bring spare batteries for your meter. It would have been a pain to have to try and find a place that sells those strange flat batteries while on vacation. So in addition to an extra meter, I am adding extra meter batteries on to my packing list and you should too.

You should also be careful with your insulin pump, if you use one. A lot of the time I wear mine in a clip on my pants, but I made sure to have it tucked in my pocket underneath my jacket so that it wouldn’t freeze.

Feeling your symptoms

Have you ever been skiing or playing in the snow? You know that feeling when you’re a little out of breath and you’re sweaty from being all bundled in your warm coat, but also kind of cold because your face is frozen? Well those symptoms exactly describe feelings of a low blood sugar! Being in the cold can make it really hard to interpret your body’s low blood sugar warning signals. You may be shivering from being cold, but it could be shakiness from a low blood sugar and you’re chalking it up to the cold. You might feel thirsty from thinner air if you’re in a higher altitude, but that could be a high blood sugar. The moral of the story is to test more often when you’re somewhere cold. You can also do your fingers a favor by warming them up first before testing. Nothing’s more annoying that poking a finger, squeezing the crap out of it to get juuuuuust enough blood, and then the meter yelling error at you and having to re-poke. Warm up your fingers and get the blood flowing before you poke. And for those of us who are not so consistent about changing out our lancets, do a lancet change before your trip to make life a little easier.

Winter activities

One of the best things about the snow is all the fun stuff you can do in it! Skiing, snowboarding, sledding, snow-ball fighting, the list goes on and on. Since feeling your symptoms can be challenging in the cold weather, it’s important to monitor your blood sugars closely. Make sure you are checking before doing anything dangerous like getting on a ski-lift or sledding down a mountain. When we were hiking by one of the glaciers in Iceland, I was so excited about the gorgeous views and thought I was only sweating from the workout and being bundled up in my coat. Turns out I was actually having a low blood sugar. Make sure you bring lots of snacks and low blood sugar treatments when you are out doing fun outdoor things.

Stay hydrated

Staying hydrated is always important, but it’s easy to forget to drink water when you’re in cold climates. Make sure you are drinking a lot of water and always carry water with you when you travel. I travel with a backpack so that I can keep water, snacks and my other supplies with me wherever we go. Myabetic has some super cute backpacks specifically designed for diabetics! You can get 15% off if you sign up for their newsletter. Or you could scour thrift shops and hope for a good find like I do!

As far as getting ready for your day, if you think to yourself, “eh, I’ll just get water when we’re out,” don’t count on it. Sometimes you’ll be fine, but other times you’ll be places that only have $5 bottles of water, or you’ll get stuck on a tour bus after a traffic accident for 2.5 hours (yes, that happened on this trip). You don’t want to be out and not have water. Dehydration can cause high blood sugars. High blood sugars can get worse if you don’t have water to drink. I don’t know if you know this, but continuous glucose monitors won’t read accurately when you’re dehydrated. I have seen this several times with my Dexcom.

There’s a glacier behind us!

Winter is beautiful. Snow is beautiful. And diabetes is totally manageable in the cold as long as you keep these things in mind. If there’s any other tips you have for surviving in the cold with diabetes, please let me know!

Happy travels,


Leave a Reply