Diabetes can be a confusing disease, full of rules and regulations about what to eat and when. A child stricken by diabetes can be a special challenge to parents, and many caregivers are puzzled about how to handle the illness, especially at first. The best way to care for the diabetic child is to increase your knowledge about diabetes, which includes being aware of the symptoms and the treatment options available in case something happens with a diabetic person. Caregivers need to know what and when the child should eat and ensure that the child keeps up a healthy level of exercise.
Most children tend to have Type 1 diabetes, previously known as juvenile diabetes, although children are increasingly being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes as well. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas does not work and does not produce any insulin. Insulin is needed to help break down sugars (glucose) in our body to help it work efficiently. When this breakdown of sugars does not happen, as in the case of Type 1 diabetes, the sugar stays in the blood stream.
Because insulin is important in breaking down sugars in the body to use for energy, insulin has to be taken to control the illness. Therefore Type 1 diabetes is also called insulin dependent diabetes. Exercise and diet are also important in helping to control this type of diabetes. Caring for the child with diabetes means that you will need to recognize the signs of the illness, as well as any resulting reactions that can occur. The main signs of diabetes in children are:
- A Fruity Smell On The Breath
- Child is Constantly Hungry
- Faster Than Normal Pulse Rate
- Child Complains of Headaches
- Child Says They Feel Weak and/or Dizzy
- Loss of Concentration
- Foggy or Blurred Vision
- Skin feels cold and moist to the Touch
- Experiencing seizures
Next, you should be able to identify when the child is in crisis, suffering either a hypoglycemic or hyperglycemic episode, and you should know what to do help in either case. Hyperglycemia occurs when the sugar levels are too high. Rising sugar levels are generally a result of eating too much, not taking the correct amount of insulin, or not exercising enough. When a child is hyperglycemic, treatment by medical professionals is needed. A child suffering from high blood sugar will complain of the following:
- Feeling weak
- Being very thirsty
- Needing to urinate more often than normal
- Cannot see clearly
- Does not feel hungry
With hypoglycemia or low blood sugar, the symptoms tend to vary depending on the child. However some of the typical signs include:
- Sudden mood swings
- Tendency to be clumsy
- Tingling feeling around the mouth
The first course of action is to increase the child’s sugar intake by giving them something sweet to drink, such as regular soda, fruit juice or glucose tablets. Once the child is feeling better, you should give them something more solid to eat. If the child is too weak to swallow or is unconscious, administer the recommended dosage of glucagon and call for immediate medical assistance. Glucagon is a medication given by injection to rapidly increase the level of glucose in the blood. It is normally the first course of treatment in severe hypoglycemia.
Diet is a major part of keeping the diabetic child healthy. The caregiver has the responsibility to ensure that the child eats what is recommended. It is also important to talk with the child and let them know that they will get really sick if they eat too many sweets or other foods that can pose a risk. It is also important to let others, such as teachers, know that a diabetic child may need to snack to boost their sugar and energy levels. The child with diabetes must also have regular meals.
Exercise is important as well, and there is no reason why the diabetic child cannot participate in all regular physical activity. Exercise helps to control blood sugar levels. However, children with diabetes should not exert themselves before meal time. Also, they will need to have a snack, such as juice, crackers or a fruit, handy, as they will need to replace sugar lost during physical activity.
Most importantly, children should be taught how to test their blood sugar levels during the course of the day, once they are able to do soon their own. This is important so that they can take insulin or eat something as needed.
Although the diabetic child will need special monitoring, this does not have to pose any difficulties. Parents and guardians need to inform other care givers of the possible health triggers and what to do in the event that something goes wrong. Children should also be told what to do if their blood sugar levels fall or rise.
Telephone numbers should also be kept in a convenient place so that help can be easily summoned in the case of an emergency.