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Type 1 Diabetes: What Every Caregiver Should Know

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Across the country, an estimated 244,000 American kids and adolescents live with Type 1 diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While it’s vital to be aware of how common this condition is, it’s even more important to know how to be an ally to a kid or teen who lives with Type 1 diabetes.

As a parent or guardian, teacher, family member, babysitter or caregiver, knowing what to do for low blood sugar can help prevent serious complications and keep a child safe and well. We’re here to break down the basics of Type 1 diabetes, signs of low blood sugar in kids and first aid steps to take.

Type 1 Diabetes Basics to Know

Unlike Type 2 diabetes, Type 1 diabetes (also called juvenile diabetes) is an autoimmune disease characterized by low or nonexistent production of insulin by the pancreas. It can be diagnosed at any age, but the onset is especially common in young children and teens.

With Type 1 diabetes, the pancreas doesn’t make the insulin the body needs to get glucose from the bloodstream to the cells. Because of this, insulin is needed to help regulate glucose levels between and after meals.

Type 1 Diabetes Symptoms in Kids

The symptoms of Type 1 diabetes in kids can develop suddenly, and typically include:

  • Bed-wetting in children who’ve never wet the bed before
  • Blurred vision
  • Dry mouth
  • Excessive thirst
  • Extreme hunger
  • Frequent urination
  • Itchy or dry skin
  • Mood changes and irritability
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Weakness and fatigue

If you notice any of these signs in your child, talk to their pediatrician as soon as possible.

Diagnosing Type 1 Diabetes in Kids

Your child’s pediatrician can evaluate the symptoms you’re seeing and advise on your best next steps, which may include referring your child to a pediatric endocrinologist for a Type 1 diabetes diagnosis.

If your child or teen is diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, an endocrinologist can work with your family to develop a treatment plan, including determining the right insulin dosage and other ways to manage your child’s blood sugar.

Monitoring Your Child’s Blood Sugar Levels

Monitoring your child’s blood sugar helps you know when their blood sugar is high (a hyperglycemic episode) and when insulin is needed to bring it back down. It also helps you know when their blood sugar is low (a hypoglycemic episode) and when carbohydrates can help bring it back up.

Continuous glucose monitors and traditional blood sugar meters can both help monitor blood sugar. Additionally, drinking plenty of water, regulating daily vegetable and carbohydrate intake and partaking in gentle, regular exercise like walking can help your child lower or maintain a healthy blood sugar level.

An endocrinologist is the best health care expert to help determine which monitor is best for your child, along with the appropriate insulin-to-carbohydrate ratio for their needs.

How to Tell if a Child’s Blood Sugar Is Too Low

Keeping your child or teen’s blood sugar levels in a healthy range can take time and practice, especially if they’re newly diagnosed. Watch for signs that their blood sugar is too low, which may include:

  • Blurred or double vision
  • Confusion, moodiness or crankiness
  • Dizziness or being unsteady on their feet
  • Fatigue or sleepiness
  • Headaches
  • Pale, sweaty or clammy skin
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Seizures or fainting
  • Shakiness or weakness

If you notice these signs, take steps immediately to bring your child’s blood sugar back up to a healthy level.

Prepare a Diabetes First Aid Bag and Keep It Handy

Keeping a stock of necessary items readily available in a waterproof bag or tote can help ensure you or another caregiver always have what you need if your little one’s blood sugar drops too low.

Pack these items in your diabetes first aid bag:

  • Blood glucose meter and extra test strips, lancets and alcohol wipes
  • Glucagon medicine like Gvoke® or BAQSIMI™
  • Glucose gel or tablets
  • Insulin pen with pen needles or insulin vial and syringe
  • List of emergency contacts
  • Snacks like granola bars

Make sure that each of your child’s caregivers knows about the first aid bag — or has one of their own — and knows how and when to use each item.

How to Administer Diabetes First Aid for Low Blood Sugar

During a hypoglycemic episode, it’s important to know what to do to stabilize blood sugar levels quickly. If you notice signs of low blood sugar, take these steps as first aid measures:

  1. Have them eat, drink or take something sugary: glucose tablets or gel or drinks like orange juice have carbohydrates that can raise blood sugar levels
  2. Monitor their symptoms: after they eat or drink something, let them digest for about 10 minutes and watch for symptoms to improve
  3. Retest their blood sugar levels: use a blood glucose meter to check whether their blood sugar level has risen back to a healthy level

If a child faints or is unconscious because of low blood sugar, a glucagon kit can help. Glucagon is a hormone that can raise blood sugar fast and comes in an injection pen or a nasal spray. Your child’s endocrinologist can advise on whether glucagon kits are necessary for your family to keep on hand and where to get them.

Pediatric Diabetes Care at AdventHealth

As your family learns to navigate Type 1 diabetes together, know you’re not alone. Our experienced and compassionate team at AdventHealth for Children is here to guide you.

We offer a continuum of pediatric diabetes care, from diagnosis to ongoing treatment, ensuring that your child’s needs are met at every step. And because we’re committed to advancing care, we partner with the AdventHealth Research Institute to find new ways to prevent, treat and ultimately cure all types of diabetes. To view diabetes research trials that are actively recruiting participants, visit AHDiabetesResearch.com.

Get Started With Kid-Centered Care for Type 1 Diabetes

Kids and teens can live healthy, happy lives with diabetes, and we’re here to help your family manage this condition safely and effectively.

With a kid-friendly hospital complete with scare-free zones and a multidisciplinary team of pediatric diabetes physicians, educators and dietitians, AdventHealth for Children offers care you can count on. And when your young adult is ready to transition to the next level of care, we can help with that, too, so they’re in good hands their whole lives through.

Click here to learn more about our pediatric endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism programs.

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