Jewels Doskicz, RN, is a freelance writer, patient advocate, health coach, and long-distance cyclist. She and her daughter both live healthfully with type 1 diabetes.
Whether it’s a day at the beach or a globe-trotting dream vacation, traveling with your diabetes gear takes some thoughtful planning. You not only need to remember what to take; you also need to make sure it’s protected from extreme temperatures that could make it malfunction.
Diabetes equipment isn’t cheap—and it’s a hassle to replace when we are away from home. Thankfully, most of our supplies are quite resistant to the elements. But if you wouldn’t leave your dog in a car because of the outdoor temps, you shouldn’t leave your diabetes supplies there either.
So what is the best approach when your diabetes gear will be exposed to heat and cold?
Insulin and oral medications
Whether it’s too hot or frozen, the result is the same—unusable insulin. Of all the diabetes supplies I travel with, I’m most particular about caring for insulin.
If you’re not sure whether insulin has spoiled, throw it out and start with a fresh vial. High blood sugars can happen for a number of different reasons, but if you correct with a syringe and a vial of insulin without proper results, the writing is most likely on the wall.
I have had experiences with insulin that became too cold and also too hot; neither happened at a convenient time. Once I stored insulin in a dormitory-style hotel fridge that froze it. I have also fried my insulin by wearing it in a pump when it was extremely hot outdoors—think Phoenix, Arizona in July.
According to medical technology company BD’s recommendations, “Bottles of insulin, either open or unopened, generally last for one month when stored at room temperature (59 to 86°F).”
The Frio insulin-cooling case is the most popular case among many in the diabetes community. It is great for toting insulin around because it doesn’t require a cooler or ice; it uses an evaporative cooling technique. By simply soaking the product in cold water for five to ten minutes, it creates a cool temperature for two days (even in 100-degree weather).
In cold weather, keep your insulin pump as close to your body as possible. Insulin pump tubing left hanging out of clothes will certainly fall victim to the freezing temperatures.
In warm weather, a simple cooler pack or ice will do the trick for supply storage. Just be sure to watch the ice to be sure it hasn’t melted. Create a barrier between the ice and insulin to ensure the insulin doesn’t freeze.
If all of this chatter leaves you wondering about the quality of insulin that’s delivered to your door in the summer, you aren’t alone. When the dark brown UPS truck absorbs the sun’s heat and we sometimes find ourselves opening an insulin delivery box containing lukewarm ice packs—it is not very reassuring. Call your supplier if it happens to you.
Oral medications are also at risk when temperatures and humidity go to extremes. Keep them out of direct sunlight, and stash them in a cooler when it’s hot, or an inside pocket when it’s cold.
Glucose meters and test strips
Most people carry their glucometer with them rather than leaving it in the car, but it does happen. Many of us are not as temperature aware with meters and test strips as we are with insulin, but it is important to pay attention to them as well.
Familiarize yourself with manufacturer recommendations for temperature storage. For example, my glucometer, the OneTouch Verio, recommends storing strips between 41 and 86°F. A day at the beach or on the ski slopes will quickly fall out of that range without proper care.
Glucometers won’t work and will display error codes if they are out of temperature range. They are often warmed up in armpits during bitter cold skiing days, but that can affect the reliability of results. Better to let them warm up to room temperature indoors. When it’s that cold, keeping everything close to the body while you’re outdoors helps. Storing in outside jacket pockets won’t produce the results you’re looking for.
Most manufacturers also recommend having the glucometer and strips at the same temperature when testing your blood sugar. This isn’t usually a problem because they’re typically stored together. Joslin Diabetes Center also reminds us that keeping the lid closed on a container of test strips helps ensure they will work correctly.
Know before you go
All diabetes equipment, including continuous glucose monitoring systems, has recommended temperature ranges. Whatever you need to take with you, these tips can help you keep your diabetes gear in its comfort zone and ready when you need it:
• Before you go, plan your storage selections based on manufacturer temperature recommendations (see package inserts).
• Insulated bags and coolers can house anything you’re concerned about without getting too cold.
• Keep all of your supplies in a carry-on bag when flying, in case your checked bags are lost.
With an upcoming family trip to Europe this summer, I’ve been planning what my type 1 daughter and I will need, how to tote it, and what methods we’ll use to protect our supplies. Temperatures aren’t the only thing to worry about. When you pack for a vacation, take extras in case things go wrong: equipment failures, spoiled supplies, a pump site pulled out by catching on a doorknob, or a pump clip broken on a seatbelt. Anything could happen, but with a little planning and forethought you’ll be ready so you can focus on enjoying your trip.
What do you do to protect your insulin and diabetes equipment? Share your tips by commenting below.