Travelling with diabetes needn’t be a hindrance. As long as you take care to ensure of good health, diabetes shouldn’t be a restriction to seeing the amazing sites and wonders of the world. So, whether you’re holidaying in the UK or venturing thousands of miles to an exotic location, what’s most important is to know how best to keep safe abroad.
Varying Climates & Altitude
First thing’s first, when travelling abroad your body could well be subjected to climates you’re not used to, and these could have an impact on your health – particularly temperatures that are too hot or too cold. High altitude can also cause problems, so consider how you’ll keep your glycaemic controlled, whilst monitoring blood glucose levels.
If you’re travelling to a destination where you’d expect prolonged hot temperatures, you need to take care with diabetes. The hot weather can have a number of effects on both your medication and your body, so you do need to take care.
Insulin can be damaged in hot climates, particularly when it’s in direct sunlight. Remember, insulin is best kept in cool bags and refrigerators. Damaged insulin can turn cloudy (if it was clear before), and grainy (if it was previously cloudy). Do not use insulin you suspect has been affected.
• Meters & test strips
Extreme heat can also affect both meters and test strips, so it’s best to keep these at room temperature and out of direct sunlight. Hot or cold test strips can result in misleading figures.
Even if you’re enjoying the sunny weather, you should beware of heat exhaustion. Symptoms such as headaches, dizzy spells, nausea and cramps could have an effect on blood glucose – so make sure to test your levels regularly.
Remember to bear the following tips in mind:
✓ If you’ll be sunbathing for any length of time, keep monitoring your blood glucose. The heat could have an effect.
✓ Hot weather can also cause dehydration. This could worsen if your blood glucose levels are higher than normal.
✓ For those with peripheral neuropathy, be conscious of spending too much time in direct sunlight. It may cause you to be unaware of sunburn.
✓ Ensure you have suitable storage for your diabetes supplies, including insulin. The extreme heat will have an effect on both medication and equipment.
Likewise to hot climates, you also have to consider your health when travelling to a country where colder weather is expected. For instance, if you’ll be partaking in winter sports, consider the following tips:
✓ Your body will use more energy in cold weather to keep warm – so you could suffer from low glucose levels.
✓ If your glucose levels drop exponentially, you could be in more danger because of the risks of hypothermia. Frostbite could also be a cause for concern if you have peripheral neuropathy.
✓ Again, cold weather will affect your equipment and supplies, so plan thoroughly and decide how you’ll suitably store medication.
You should be careful when travelling by plane or venturing to areas of high altitude, such as when mountain climbing. However, diabetes shouldn’t be a barrier to either of these, so long as you carefully consider every scenario and plan in advance.
✓ Decide how you’ll store insulin and monitoring equipment. The altitude can affect both, so seek expert advice.
✓ Be prepared to monitor your blood glucose levels more regularly, as the altitude can have an impact on on this. A pre-travel check-up will offer the guidance you need.
✓ If you are walking or trekking for lengthy periods of time, consider the risk of a low glucose level. Mountain sickness and physical exertion may reduce your appetite. As such, it would be advised to carry fast acting carbohydrates.
✓ The impacts of altitude on your body should be discussed with a medical professional before travelling, so make sure to book an appointment.
Staying Healthy & Dealing with Illness
Whether you’re holidaying or travelling for business, there are many parts of the journey to consider when it comes to your health. In this section of the guide we’ll provide advice on travelling, eating and drinking abroad, and how to cope with illness.
TRAVELLING WITH DIABETES
Of all the ways you could travel, by plane presents the most risk for someone with diabetes. To start with, you have to deal with the potential delays, cancellations and other unexpected problems.
In order to overcome any complications, we would advise to:
✓ Have plenty of extra snacks in your hand luggage, including carbohydrates. This should keep you covered for the duration of travelling.
✓ Do some research prior to travel, making sure you know what foods can and can’t be brought into certain countries. For instance, it’s not uncommon for fresh foods to be banned. However, you should be fine with cereal bars, crisps, biscuits and other snacks.
✓ You may not need a specific diabetic meal on board, however it’d be advised to have your own food to complement this.
✓ Monitor your glucose levels regularly, because as previously discussed, the altitude can cause issues.
✓ Your medication and diabetes equipment may need to be stored during take-off and landing.
✓ Speak to the airline before travelling to get an idea of meal times – you can then plan insulin doses around these.
✓ Avoid alcohol when flying.
Because of the nature of air travel, a number of factors could impact your diabetes. This would include dietary changes, sleeping patterns and altitude. For these reasons, you should let members of staff know you are diabetic in case of illness on board.
Eating and drinking abroad
Whenever travelling abroad, it’s important to keep a healthy diet, so your diabetes can be controlled and any potential problems averted. However, for many diabetics, issues arise when your usual foods can’t be found overseas.
Before travelling, you should research the typical foods available in the country – especially which foods will have the carbohydrates your body needs. Remember, alcohol and recreational drugs can quickly affect your diabetes in a negative way, so to avoid complications it would be advised to avoid both completely.
If you’re travelling with specific activities in mind, such as snow skiing or mountain climbing, it’s even more crucial to consider your dietary requirements and how much insulin is required. Again though, a check-up appointment with your local GP should help you understand what’s needed.
For more information on how to better manage your diet and insulin, consider a DAFNE (Dose Adjustment for Normal Eating) educational course. These are specifically designed to help people with Type 1 diabetes.
Becoming ill with diabetes
If you have diabetes, you’ll be pleased to know that you’re not any more likely to become ill on your travels. However, even though your risks aren’t increased, being ill can have severe health complications, as they would if you were staying in the UK.
For instance, vomiting can lead to low blood glucose, whilst a fever may have the opposite effect. Most illnesses abroad will be water or food-borne, so to avoid these you should practice good hygiene levels.
Primarily, it’s advised to:
✓ Avoid raw or undercooked seafood.
✓ Steer clear of uncooked fruit and vegetables.
✓ Dodge food that has been left to stand for long periods at room temperature.
✓ Buy bottled water from the local supermarket for drinking.
A consultant should be able to advise you on how to deal with illnesses abroad and what extra precautions you’ll need to take.