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Avoid Frozen Insulin: Tips for Cold Weather

A portrait of senior grandfather and a small girl in snowy nature on a winter day.

Whether you like to hit the slopes snowboarding or skiing, hike up the windswept trails of a snowy mountain, or simply sit outside with a cup of hot cocoa—there’s always something to do outdoors in the winter. If you’re living with diabetes or if you have diabetes, you might have to venture out into the cold with a collection of insulin, blood glucose monitors, and insulin delivery devices. In extreme temperatures, you have to keep yourself safe by protecting your supplies from the elements so they keep working at top efficiency. Avoid spoiled insulin, freezing fingers, and icy electronics with the following diabetes tips for cold weather!

Avoid frozen insulin 

People with diabetes have to consider insulin storage while out and about. Insulin must be kept near room temperature and out of direct sunlight no matter the season. But the cold winter months bring a new problem: frozen insulin. 

Like water, insulin freezes right around 32 degrees Fahrenheit. However, unlike water, insulin drastically changes during freezing and isn’t the same after it thaws. Certain insulin proteins must be kept intact or they will lose their potency. This can make frozen and subsequently thawed insulin less effective and unreliable at controlling your blood sugar levels. 

Obviously, you can’t use frozen insulin, making proper preparation for a long skiing or hiking trip key to protecting your supply stash. Here are some tips to avoid frozen insulin: 

  • Use your body heat to keep your insulin from freezing. While on cold outdoor treks, keep your daily supply close to your body to allow your insulated clothing to keep it warm with your own heat. Some companies sell special insulin wallets to provide an extra layer of protection for your insulin supplies. These can be helpful for people who want to keep their insulin close to their bodies during winter activities. 
  • Store insulin in an insulated container. Your average thermos or cooler can act as a temperature-controlled safe for insulin supplies as they are designed to keep their contents at the same temperature despite outside conditions. 
  • Don’t forget about leftover insulin in your vials, pumps, or pens. This insulin can freeze easily, leaving you with a mess at best and a non-functioning insulin delivery device at worst. 
  • Generally, don’t try to salvage frozen insulin. It won’t be completely worthless but it will be very close, and there’s no point in rolling the dice on your health. Toss out frozen insulin at the first opportunity so you don’t accidentally use it. 

Protect your diabetes electronics from the freezing cold 

Nowadays, insulin treatment is regularly assisted by specialized electronics, like the Medtronic MiniMed pump systems, that need to keep working. These need protection from cold air and snow as well to remain in working order. 

  • Pumps**: Some pumps come with a temperature alert warning, telling you to get it out of the cold before it loses functionality. Insulin pumps can be used in cold weather but can be damaged by extreme cold just like any other electronic. Generally, the recommendation is to keep it close to your body and above 40 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  • Continuous glucose monitors: Devices like Medtronic’s Guardian Connect CGM are already placed next to your body. Medtronic recommends storing the Guardian™, Guardian™ Connect transmitters and sensor in temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, in any case. If your sensor does freeze, it may lose its effectiveness. If you take it off for a day on the slopes, store it in a warm place. 

These diabetes tips for cold weather can help keep your devices and medication in the best condition as you explore your nearest serene winter wonderland. You don’t have to stay inside during the winter when you have a plan that will keep your snow boots on the path and your diabetes treatment on track. 

* Medtronic Diabetes pumps work at altitudes below 10,000 feet above sea level. Confirm your device’s altitude range before engaging in sporting activities. 

** MiniMed™ pumps are designed to withstand temperatures between 41 – 104°. Insulin can freeze near 32° and become less effective at higher temperatures. If you’re outside in cold weather, wear your pump close to your body and cover it with warm clothing. 

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