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How to Handle a Chronic Illness at Work

Whether it's epilepsy or peanut allergies here are some tips on who to tell, what your employer needs to know, and what people should do in case of an emergency.

Diabetes

Help your colleagues recognize if you're having an attack of low blood sugar, called hypoglycemia. Immediate treatment is needed and you may not be able to act quickly enough on your own.

Share this list of symptoms of low blood sugar to help people know what to watch for:

 

  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Trembling
  • Irritability/Anxiety
  • Pale skin
  • Sweating
  • Weakness
  • Poor coordination
  • Passing out

 

Then be sure your colleagues know how to act quickly in case of hypoglycemia:

 

  • If you suffer from frequent episodes of severe hypoglycemia a glucagon emergency kit should be prescribed by you doctor. This would be used in case your reaction is to the degree that you cannot help yourself through the reaction. Here another person can give you an injection in your muscles of the glucagon solution that will help bring your sugars up.

    Give your friends a few ideas of things they can get for you to help bring your blood sugar up. Also let them know not to try any of these if you have passed out from low blood sugar. They should call 911 immediately in that case.
  • Two or three glucose tablets (available at pharmacy)
  • One tube of glucose gel (available at pharmacy)
  • Chew four to six pieces of hard candy (not sugar-free)
  • 1/2 cup fruit juice
  • 1 cup skim milk
  • 1/2 cup soft drink (not sugar-free)
  • 1 tablespoon honey (placed under your tongue for rapid absorption into the bloodstream)
  • 1 tablespoon table sugar
  • 1 tablespoon corn syrup

 

Peanut Allergy

While most allergies to foods can cause symptoms, such as hives or stomach cramps, severe food allergies can cause anaphylaxis -- an allergic reaction that can be severe and sometimes deadly. For you and your co-workers, this means recognizing the symptoms of anaphylaxis, which may begin with severe itching of the eyes, but within minutes progresses to more serious symptoms such as those below:

 

  • Swelling, which can cause swallowing and breathing difficulty from swollen tissues in the throat
  • Abdominal pain
  • Cramps
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Hives, even in the throat

 

Immediate medical attention is needed -- have someone call 911 -- since the condition can quickly result in an increased heart rate, sudden weakness, a drop in blood pressure, shock, and ultimately unconsciousness or death.

If you have a severe peanut allergy -- or other food allergy -- you should always have an epinephrine injection with you. Epinephrine is adrenaline and it rapidly reverses the effects of anaphylaxis. Be sure your co-workers know where you keep it in your office, and how to use it. Even when the symptoms subside, someone should take you to the emergency room.

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