The goal of your child's treatment for type 1 diabetes is to always keep his or her blood sugar levels within a target range. A target range reduces the chance of diabetes complications. Daily diabetes care and regular medical checkups will help you and your child accomplish this goal.
Your child's daily care includes:
- Exercise. Experts recommend that teens and children (starting at age 6) do moderate to vigorous activity at least 1 hour every day.1
- Home blood sugar monitoring.
- Preparing and giving insulin injections.
- Living with an insulin pump.
- Counting carbohydrate.
- Dealing with low blood sugar levels.
- Preventing high blood sugar levels.
Some problems you may encounter include:
- Changing appetite and "picky eating." A registered dietitian can help you build a flexible meal plan to meet your child's appetite needs and allow for special events, such as parties and school activities. If you use rapid-acting insulin, you can give the insulin dose after a meal based on what your child ate. Some tips for mealtimes with young children include having alternative meal choices.
- Illness. Work with your doctor to set up sick-day guidelines for your child. These help you prevent high blood sugar emergencies when your child is ill. Talk with the doctor before giving your child any nonprescription medicine.
- Exercise. Plan some activities to do with your child, such as in-line skating or bicycling. Use these tips for exercising safely to help prevent low blood sugar in your child. Limit TV, video games, and computer time to 2 hours or less a day (not including time for schoolwork).
You will also want to:
- Always have your child wear medical identification to let medical personnel know that he or she has diabetes. You can buy medical identification bracelets , necklaces, or other forms of jewelry at a pharmacy or on the Internet. Temporary medical identification tattoos are another form of medical identification.
- Teach your child about good foot care. Foot problems are rare in children who have diabetes. But adults can have foot problems, especially with diabetic neuropathy. Teach your child the importance of wearing shoes that fit properly. Check your child's feet if he or she has signs of injury or infection. Teach your child to get in the habit of washing and drying feet thoroughly. If you notice a foot problem, even a minor one, talk with your child's doctor before treating it.
- Keep your child's day care or school plan for diabetes care up to date. Have written instructions for your babysitter and other caregivers.
- Help your child care for his or her skin and teeth and gums. Make sure your child has a dental checkup every 6 months.
- Keep your child's immunizations up to date. This includes a flu shot every year.
- Participate in a support group for parents of children who have diabetes. These groups can be very helpful, especially the first few years after diagnosis. Local groups are available in most areas.
- Encourage your child to attend camps for children who have diabetes. Diabetes camps are a good learning experience for your child, and they will allow you some time to yourself.
- Allow your child who has diabetes to help with the treatment, given his or her age and experience with the disease.
Regular medical checkups
Your child needs to see his or her doctor every 3 to 6 months. During these checkups, the doctor will evaluate and adjust your child's treatment. The doctor will do a hemoglobin A1c or similar test (glycosylated hemoglobin or glycohemoglobin) to check your child's blood sugar control over the previous 2 to 3 months, and a blood glucose test.
If your child's LDL cholesterol is less than 100 mg/dL (2.60 mmol/L) and there is no family history of high cholesterol, the doctor may do a cholesterol (LDL and HDL) test every 5 years. If your child's blood pressure is consistently high and not reduced with weight control or exercise, the doctor may consider medicine.
When your child has had diabetes for 5 years, the doctor will start yearly screening tests for protein in the urine, which points to diabetic nephropathy. At that same time, your child needs to see an ophthalmologist for yearly dilated eye exams (ophthalmoscopy) to check for signs of diabetic retinopathy. If your child is at low risk for vision problems, your doctor may consider doing follow-up exams less often.
Treatment for high blood sugar emergency
If your child does not take enough insulin, has a severe infection or other illness, or becomes severely dehydrated, his or her blood sugar level may rise very high and lead to diabetic ketoacidosis. Diabetic ketoacidosis is almost always treated in a hospital, often in the intensive care unit, where caregivers can watch your child closely and give him or her frequent blood tests for glucose and electrolytes. Insulin is given through a vein (intravenous, or IV) to bring blood sugar levels down. Fluids are given through the IV to correct the electrolyte imbalance. Your child may stay in the hospital for a few days until blood sugar levels are back in the target range and electrolytes have normalized.
What to think about
If your child has frequent low blood sugar levels, especially at night (nocturnal hypoglycemia), the doctor may suggest a continuous glucose monitor (CGM). A CGM reports blood sugar at least every 5 minutes, day and night. It sounds an alarm if blood sugar levels are moving out of range. The monitor stores the results, which allows you to look for patterns of high or low blood sugar levels.