Every parent knows babies and small children sleep and drink a lot. But if your child is suddenly much drowsier or thirstier than usual, it could be a symptom of type 1 diabetes.
It used to be called juvenile diabetes because most of the people who got it were young children. Your child could get type 1 diabetes as an infant, or later, as a toddler or a teen. Most often, it appears after age 5. But some people don’t get it until their late 30s.
Know the symptoms of type 1 diabetes so you can help keep your child healthy.
Understanding Type 1 Diabetes
It’s not the same as “classic” or type 2 diabetes, which is often linked to obesity and seen in adults (but it can occur in children too, usually after age 10).
If your child has type 1 diabetes, it means their pancreas -- an organ in the upper-right side of the belly -- makes little or no insulin. The condition is an autoimmune disorder, which means it happens when the body’s defense system attacks and destroys cells that make insulin.
What to Watch For
Symptoms of type 1 diabetes in infants and children can start very suddenly. Keep an eye out for these signs in your baby or child:
- Sudden strange behavior (acting “drunk”)
- Breath that smells fruity, sweet, or like wine
- Extreme drowsiness or lack of energy
- Ongoing, intense thirst
- Grunting while breathing
- Heavy breathing
- Huge appetite
- Sudden vision changes
- Sudden weight loss
- Peeing more often (infants and toddlers may have more wet diapers than usual)
- Difficulty breathing
When to Call a Doctor
Type 1 diabetes may cause sudden, extreme swings in blood sugar that can be dangerous. If you notice any of the symptoms of diabetes in your child, it’s important to get them a physical exam as soon as possible, so their doctor can begin treatment right away.
The doctor will do a simple urine test to check for glucose (sugar) in the urine and a finger stick to measure preliminary blood glucose level. A more involved test, called an oral glucose tolerance test, can tell for certain if it’s type 1 diabetes. Your child will need to follow a special diet before this procedure.
If your child has already been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, call your doctor if you notice any of these signs of a low blood sugar emergency:
- Blurry or double vision
- Cold, clammy skin
- Drowsiness or tiredness
- Extreme or sudden hunger
- Pale, moist skin
- Rapid pulse
- Shallow breathing
Low blood sugar can be life-threatening to children with type 1 diabetes. Always call 911 or get emergency medical help if your child ever passes out or has seizures.