Managing Your Diabetes During a Natural Disaster

Floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, and fires strike fast,creating challenges that can be especially difficult for people withdiabetes.

If you haven't planned ahead, an electrical outage, loss of waterservice, or damaged supplies can seriously hinder your ability tocare for yourself. Fortunately, you can take steps now to ensurethat a natural disaster doesn't prove disastrous to your diabetesmanagement.

Most electric companies have programs for customers with specialmedical needs, including those undergoing peritoneal dialysis. Toenroll, simply fill out an application for special medical needsstatus, perhaps accompanied by a note from your doctor verifyingyour condition.

Although your electric company may not be able to guarantee youspecial power restoration privileges in the event of an emergency,it will warn you by telephone of scheduled power outages (such asrolling blackouts), and impending disasters that might lead toextended power outages. Such warnings can give you enough time tofind lodging somewhere that still has electricity.

Dialysis centers may not open during a disaster, so dialysispatients should find out ahead of time how to get treatment if theirfacility is closed. Peritoneal dialysis patients should also have anemergency dialysis plan. And because there is increased risk ofperitonitis in disaster situations, ask your doctor about getting anemergency pack of antibiotics.

Keep in mind that the battery of your motorized wheelchair orscooter may die during a long-term power outage, leaving youstranded. An extra battery is handy, of course, but it is also wiseto keep a manual wheelchair as a back-up.

Because insulin is usually refrigerated at 35 to 46 degreesFahrenheit, insulin storage is always a concern during lengthyelectrical outages. Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administrationsays that insulin may be stored as long as 28 days at temperaturesup to 86 degrees, it may lose its potency at extremetemperatures.

Consequently, it's crucial to have a supply of ice on hand. Ifyou find yourself without ice during an unexpected power loss,immediately go out and buy a supply. (If you're using the ice tocool your insulin, however, be sure not to let the insulin freeze.)

High heat and humidity associated with a power outage can alsodamage blood glucose meters and test strips. After high heatexposure, you should test your meter to ensure that its results arestill accurate.

A power outage can cause a pressure drop at your local water andsewage company, leading to water contamination. Many water companieshave a priority restoration service for the medically needy, but youmust register ahead of time.

Some of your medical equipment may require safe water for use,cleaning, and maintenance, so it's a good idea to keep a supply ofbottled water on hand. With sufficient warning, you can also fillpots, pans and your bathtub with clean water.

If bottled water is unavailable and the local water iscontaminated, you may have to sterilize your water. Stockpile somechlorine tablets, iodine tablets, or household bleach to use in theevent that a power outage makes it impossible to sterilize yourwater by boiling it.

Always keep copies of your medication prescriptions in a dry,easily-reached location so that you can grab them in the event of anevacuation. If your medication is lost during a natural disaster,Wal-Mart, Rite Aid, and many other large pharmacies may provideemergency refills.

Some pharmacies will even give you a three- to thirty-day supplyof medication for free. (Remember that ATM's may not work when theelectricity is out.) Ask your local pharmacy in advance how theyhandle emergency medication replacement.

Red Cross workers can also help by directing you to pharmaciesthat are still open. Many Red Cross emergency centers are staffedwith doctors, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners who cantake a short medical history, do a physical, and writeprescriptions.

Be sure to stock up on all the supplies you might need in anemergency. Remember to include syringes, alcohol, cotton balls,insulin pump supplies, blood sugar monitoring supplies, supplies forlow blood sugars, peritoneal dialysis supplies, healthy canned andready-to-eat foods, a manual can opener, flashlights, candles,matches, batteries, and cash.

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