Flying with diabetes can be a scary adventure. Even if you have it under control on the ground, your blood sugar can go haywire when you are in the air. The food, stress, and change of atmospheric pressure all play a role in how well your body manages its glucose levels. But there are things that you can do to make flying easier-and keep yourself healthy!
In this Diabetic & Me article you will learn about:
- How to handle stress before the flight?
- How important are dehydration and the onboard food choices?
- Taking care of your insulin when flying.
- How to make your flight even more comfortable?
Is it safe to fly with diabetes?
As someone who has taken many flights over the last few years, I can tell you that flying with diabetes doesn't have to be difficult at all and is really safe. In this post, I will teach you what factors affect blood sugar while traveling and offer some tips for managing diabetes during flight so that you don't end up feeling miserable or having an emergency because of low or high blood sugar. Here is everything you need to know when preparing for your first flight - including my personal tips and tricks for making sure it's easy-peasy!
Does blood sugar increase during fight or flight?
When we find ourselves in a scary or stressful situation, our bodies release adrenaline which may cause blood sugar to increase. This is one of the reasons why people with diabetes have trouble managing their levels when they fly and it’s also important to know that not everyone experiences this phenomenon. If you experience an increase in your blood sugar while flying you might want to try to reduce stress, make sure you are hydrated, watch out for fatigue, and eat healthily.
1. Reduce your stress levels
It's important to stay calm and relaxed before, during, and after your flight. Try to relax on the ground for a few hours prior to departure, walk around the terminal to increase blood flow, or meditate with soothing music if you're in first class (or have access). During the flight try not to get too stressed about anything that is happening-including turbulence! If it gets really bad then just focus on how soon your feet will be back on solid ground. And finally when you land put yourself at ease by eating something sweet like a snack bar so that your body can start processing glucose again as quickly as possible.
Always make sure you have all your medication safely stored and have access to it. If you need any assistance with your diabetes medication, make sure to let the cabin crew know at least 24 hours before departure time. When you arrive at the airport talk to airport security so they are up to date about your situation. This will prevent any issues later when your luggage has to go through the x-ray machine or body scanner.
Some people will find that they have a "diabetic crash" on an airplane! The only thing you can do in this case is drink water and try not to take too much food-especially sugar. And if it gets really bad then just focus on how soon your feet will be back on solid ground.
Tips for managing diabetes while flying: Take care of yourself by staying hydrated, eat healthy snacks like granola bars or nuts and pack some crackers in your carry-on bag. Stay up to date with what's happening around/in front of you so that situational awareness is maintained during flight.
2. Always stay hydrated
Make sure to drink lots of water before boarding because dehydration while flying could be potentially dangerous. It's also important to regulate your blood sugar levels. In addition, you should plan your food intake carefully to avoid hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels).
3. Eat healthy
As a diabetic, it's important to eat healthy at all times. It's no different on an airplane but it could be a bit more difficult. You'll have to be prepared and make sure you pack snacks in your carry-on bag.
There are many airlines that offer diabetic-friendly food but it might not always be available for purchase through the airline website or onboard the flight because they overbook their flights. But don't worry, there's a list of disability services providers who can help with pre-purchasing these foods ahead of time!
The best way is to plan meals beforehand so that you know what you're eating before boarding the plane. And if possible, eat something light like bread/bun sandwiches rather than fries which may fluctuate your blood sugar levels more quickly! It's also a good idea to avoid high-fat foods and sugar while flying with diabetes because they can cause blood glucose levels to spike in a short period of time. Avoid taking any medications that may affect your blood sugar or insulin dosages without consulting your doctor first. If you do take medication, talk with the flight attendants about when would be best for them to assist you so as not disrupt other passengers around you on the plane. Most attendants will gladly assist even without asking them specifically.
4. Watch out for fatigue
Be sure to have a good night's sleep and be on the lookout for signs of fatigue. And also, if you're feeling tired or sleepy, try drinking some water as hydration will help with your alertness! If you are traveling somewhere that is lower in altitude than where you live at home (e.g., Denver CO vs Washington DC), make an appointment with your doctor before flying so they can give you advice about what to do while adjusting back to sea level after arriving at the destination.
Check your blood glucose levels more often
It's important to check your blood glucose levels often when flying with diabetes. Check them at least every hour after meals, and more often if you have any changes in appetite or activity level, are feeling ill or faint, experience extreme thirst or nausea, see visual disturbances of any kind (such as flashing lights), or feel lightheaded or dizzy.
One helpful thing for people managing their diabetes while on a plane is having what we call "emergency supplies" nearby. These include extra insulin pens just in case the one you're using runs out; sugar tablets to bring up low blood sugars quickly, and candy bars to treat high blood sugars quickly. It's best not to eat these foods between regular meals because they will raise your blood sugar too much.
Don’t pack all your diabetes supplies in one bag
Make sure you pack your diabetic supplies in a separate bag from your clothes. This is very important for first-time flyers because you want to make sure that the supplies are always with you and not left in the overhead compartment or worse, lost altogether! If you pack your diabetic supplies in your main luggage some of it can also freeze.
- A few needles for giving yourself insulin injections
- Larger items like a glucose meter or blood testing kit and extra test strips
- Extra continuous glucose monitor
- Extra insulin is very important
- Other diabetes supplies or other extra supplies
And if there's any other special equipment needed such as an insulin pump, bring it separately too.
Can I take my insulin and needles on a plane?
Your doctor may prescribe a different type of insulin before, during, and after your flight. To avoid feeling too low or lightheaded from hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels), you can inject small amounts of the appropriate diabetes medication in between meals on board to keep blood sugar stable.
You can bring your own insulin pens and vials through an airport checkpoint but they will need to be inspected by security personnel. It is best if you carry these in a clear plastic bag, along with any syringes that may come with the pen or box of needles. You should also make sure to have enough medication on hand for the duration of your trip. If you are flying internationally then it's possible that customs officials might confiscate them which means carrying extra insulin as backup isn't recommended because there could very well not be medical outlets available during the flight when something happens--not all airports abroad offer regular pharmacies open 24 hours a day, seven days per week.
How to pack insulin for a plane?
Insulin is your best friend on a plane. Pack insulin in carry-on luggage, and keep it with you at all times so that if any delays happen or anything happens to the checked bag you'll have enough supplies for several days.
Keep in mind that altitude changes and new time zones can affect how much insulin you need as well as other medications you might be taking like sleeping aid and pain relievers. In general: Bring more than what's usually needed just to be safe!
Do not put it near anything frozen because this could cause problems with potency when brought back down to earth temperatures. Insulin should never get below freezing point temperature.
One of the best ways to pack insulin is by keeping it in an insulin cooler. This will help keep it from fluctuating in temperature and the cooler can be used for refrigerating other supplies as well.
Wear comfortable clothing to make your flight easier
You want to wear clothes that will keep your body temperature regulated. If you're cold, put on a sweater or jacket; if it's warm in the cabin and too hot for you, remove layers of clothing
1. Comfortable shoes
Not just because they take up space under the seat but also because being without shoes when flying can result in swelling due to lack of circulation. Make sure these are tied tightly before takeoff so they don't come off during flight. Diabetic shoes are always a great solution for people with diabetes.
2. Flight socks
No need to remind you how important blood circulation is, especially with the blood sugar variations we diabetic travelers usually experience. You'll also want to be mindful of the length of your flights. Try changing positions and flexing ankles often in order to keep blood flowing
Wear socks or footies to maintain blood circulation in your feet. This will help prevent swelling, which can make it difficult for you to walk and cause pain
Some extra tips and tricks
- Pack snacks, water, and an extra meal in your carry on bag
- Make sure you pack enough supplies for the length of your flight - some airlines will provide these things but others don't. They're usually called diabetic travel necessities and include lancets (or finger-prick blood sugar test strips), tubing, insulin pens or cartridges with needles, glucose tabs, testing solutions, syringes to inject insulin just before takeoff (if needed).
- Keep a copy of all medications including prescriptions as well as any doctor contact information handy in case something happens while traveling! You should also keep a list of emergency contacts that are not coming with you because if anything were to happen they would be able to handle it at home without
- Book a direct flight if possible. Transfers are never as convenient because you have to go through security twice and deal with the hassle of lines.
- When booking, try finding flights that depart at off hours like 11 pm or take early morning flights so your body can wake up naturally without having to adjust for the time zone change before boarding.
- If you fly often enough, make sure to ask about any airport deals where they will offer discounted parking fees or food vouchers when flying out of certain airports.
Planning ahead is key when it comes to managing diabetes. When you’re traveling, always pack all of your supplies in a carry-on bag with ice packs or frozen gel packs and bring them through the security checkpoint so they don’t get lost or delayed by TSA agents. Always stay hydrated, eat healthy snacks on the plane that are low in carbohydrates and high in protein (the best options include nuts or cheese), wear comfortable clothing so that you’re not squirming around uncomfortably during takeoffs and landings, and pack all of your medications/supplies into two bags instead of one bag so they don’t get lost. Maintaining healthy blood sugar levels throughout your flight will reduce the chances of hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia episodes that can make travel uncomfortable for everyone on board. Keep these tips in mind as you plan out your next trip!