a blood glucose monitor holding up an umbrella.

Sunburn and Type 2 Diabetes Don’t Mix 

The warm glow of sunshine on the skin is one of the great pleasures of summer. But as with most things, moderation is the key when it comes to enjoying time out in the sun.

Sunburn and type 2 diabetes don’t mix

Many people don’t realize that sunburn can elevate blood glucose levels or that certain diabetes medications can make them more susceptible to sunburn. Because of this, they may not realize how important it is for people with type 2 diabetes to take precautions and avoid getting sunburned.

Sunburn is caused by UV light

Sunburn happens when skin is exposed to too much UV rays, from the sun or a sunlamp, and the skin becomes irritated and damaged. We mostly think about sunburn during the warm months, but it’s possible to get sunburned any time of the year as long as the sun is out. Clouds and cold weather don't stop UV rays.

For people with a pale complexion, the first symptom of sunburn they notice can be their skin turning a pinkish or reddish tint. Skin becomes tender to the touch and itchy. For people with a naturally darker complexion, the first symptom of sunburn they notice might be that their skin feels hot or tender to the touch.

More serious symptoms come with more UV light exposure and more damage to the skin. Sunburn can cause swelling and liquid-filled blisters. In severe cases, sunburn can lead to heat exhaustion and dehydration.

Sunburn can drive up blood glucose levels

Many people aren’t aware of the effect sunburn can have on blood glucose levels. Sunburn causes physical pain. Pain stresses the body. And when the body experiences stress blood glucose levels tend to rise.1

Being out in the sun can also drive up blood glucose levels through dehydration. When the body becomes heated it sweats, which can lead to dehydration. Dehydration is also stressful to the body and can lead to higher blood glucose levels.

Some diabetes medications increase the risk of sunburn

Certain medications increase sun sensitivity. Just by taking these medications, people are putting themselves at a greater risk of getting sunburned.2

Sulfonylureas, commonly prescribed for type 2 diabetes, are among the medications that increase sensitivity to the sun. You may know them by the name Diabinese, glimepiride, glipizide, or glyburide.3 Other commonly used medications can also increase sun sensitivity. These include antihistamines, ibuprofen, some antibiotics, antidepressants, antipsychotics, and some cholesterol-lowering drugs.

If you have any concerns about what effect the medicines you’re taking have on your risk for sunburn, talk with your healthcare provider. Know what your risks are so you can manage them.

Avoid too much sun and heat

The best thing you can do is protect your skin, stay cool, and avoid getting sunburn in the first place.

Use sunscreen. Put SPF 30+ sunscreen on all exposed skin, including the back of the ears and neck, and the tops of the feet. Do this at least 20 minutes before going out in the sun so that the sunscreen has a chance to dry.

Wear UV-rated sunglasses to protect your eyes. Believe it or not, eyes can get sunburned. The irritation of sunburned eyes can be painful and contact lenses cannot be used until the eyes have healed completely.

Wear loose-fitting, lightweight, light-colored clothes. These are likely made of closely woven fabric that allows perspiration to evaporate. Covering the skin protects it from the sun’s UV rays and perspiring helps keep your body temperature down.

Protect your head, face, and neck by wearing a wide-brimmed hat. A hat will protect skin that often gets forgotten when putting on sunscreen, like the part on the top of your head and the backs of your ears. Also, a hat helps keep your head cool and your overall body temperature down.

Don’t go barefoot. The bottoms of your feet can get burned by hot pavement or sand. While this technically isn’t a sunburn, it is painful. In the short term, burns to the bottom of the feet can raise your body temperature and blood glucose levels. In the longer-term, injuries to the feet can disrupt normal physical activity and can take a long time to completely heal.

Avoid being out in the sun during the hottest part of the day Roughly between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. UV rays are most intense when the sun is high in the sky.

Stay hydrated. Drink enough hydrating liquids to counter your body perspiring in the heat. Avoid caffeinated and alcoholic drinks which are dehydrating. Water or a sugar-free beverage with electrolytes are good choices.

Monitor and manage your blood glucose levels more closely. When you’re out in the sun your body is experiencing stress and your normal daily routines are likely being disrupted. Keeping a closer eye on blood glucose levels gives you the opportunity to respond sooner and keep them in check.

If you do get sunburned, treat it seriously

Once you realize that you have sunburn, get out of the sun and heat. Take immediate action to soothe your skin, relieve pain, and stay hydrated.

Apply a soothing lotion, like aloe vera, to the sunburned skin. Soothing the skin will help reduce the pain and irritation you’re experiencing. Showering in cool (not cold) water can also help soothe the skin and bring down your body temperature.

Consider taking an over-the-counter medication to reduce pain and inflammation. Since pain drives up blood glucose levels (and is just plain uncomfortable) taking a painkiller will counter sunburn discomfort. Always speak with your healthcare provider before taking any new medications.

Keep track of your blood glucose levels. It may take a while for your blood glucose levels to come back down. Keep an eye on them so that you can actively respond.

Contact your healthcare provider, if needed. If you develop blisters, sunburn symptoms persist, or you suspect that you’re experiencing heat exhaustion or severe dehydration.

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