How to Manage Your Child’s Type 1 Diabetes Diagnosis
Your child’s type 1 diabetes diagnosis affects the entire family. As a parent, it’s understandable to feel overwhelmed as you get up to speed on their treatment plan, including insulin therapy, blood glucose testing, and coordinating with your insurance provider.
“There’s so much information thrown at you right away, and we didn’t know what we didn’t know,” shared Lucinda, a Partnership Manager at Alto whose 5-year-old son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes last year. “Insurance coverage is particularly complicated with diabetes, even for someone who works in healthcare like me, because you’re dealing with so many medications and supplies that aren’t commonly prescribed.”
Despite the initial challenges of a type 1 diagnosis, managing your child’s diabetes does get easier. By staying on top of daily blood sugar management and surrounding your family with a strong support system, your child will be able to have a healthy, active life — and you will be able to find some peace of mind. Here’s an overview of the information you need to manage your child’s type 1 diabetes diagnosis
Type 1 diabetes and children
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the body mistakenly destroys the pancreas’s insulin-producing cells. Your body needs insulin to properly convert a simple sugar known as glucose into energy. Without insulin, blood sugar levels rise in people with type 1 diabetes, which can cause life-threatening health complications if untreated.
While type 1 diabetes can be diagnosed in adults, the majority of cases develop during childhood (the condition was once referred to as juvenile diabetes). In some cases, symptoms appear in children less than a year old.
Blood sugar levels typically rise very quickly as the condition develops. Some of the common initial symptoms of type 1 diabetes include increased thirst, frequent urination, extreme hunger, weight loss, and fatigue. Your child may feel very sick within two to three weeks following the onset of the condition.
Insulin therapy is the cornerstone of treatment for type 1 diabetes. Since individuals with type 1 diabetes don’t produce any insulin at all, they need to take insulin every day to maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
Insulin is most commonly administered with a syringe, but additional methods of delivery include insulin pumps and pens. There are five main types of insulin categorized by how quickly they work and how long they last: rapid-acting, regular or short-acting, intermediate-acting, long-acting, and ultra long-acting.
It’s important to work with your child’s healthcare provider to find the right insulin dosage, as taking too much or too little can cause rapid changes in blood glucose levels. Many people with diabetes need to take a combination of rapid or short-acting and long-acting insulins throughout the day. This best replicates the natural actions of a normally functioning pancreas, which releases a continual supply of insulin with additional bursts when you eat.
Read our previous blog to learn more about getting started with insulin therapy.
Blood sugar monitoring
The goal of insulin therapy is to keep your child’s blood sugar in a healthy range. For people without diabetes, a typical blood sugar range is 70 to 125 mg/dL when fasting. People with diabetes should typically try to stay between 70 to 180 mg/dL.
Your child’s healthcare provider will let you know what your child’s blood sugar target range is. Individual blood sugar targets will vary depending on factors like age, physical activity, and the severity of the condition. It will likely change as your child grows.
Daily testing is the only way to ensure that your child’s blood sugar is within their target range. It will also offer insight into how food and physical activity affect your child’s blood sugar levels throughout the day.
As with insulin therapy, checking your child’s blood sugar using a blood glucose meter will become routine. You will likely need to check and record your child’s blood sugar several times throughout the day, including before meals and snacks, before and after exercise, and before bed. Logging results from blood sugar tests is very important for noticing patterns and determining if any adjustments to your child’s treatment are necessary. Apps like Glucose and mySugr are helpful tools that allow you to identify trends over time.
Your doctor will advise you on your child’s individual needs with blood sugar monitoring. You may have to check their blood sugar levels more frequently when they are sick, if their routine changes, or if they start a new medication. A continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) device, which measures blood sugar every few minutes through a temporary or implanted sensor inserted under the skin, is helpful for individuals who need to monitor blood sugar levels more closely. Consult with your child’s healthcare provider about whether or not a CGM device is appropriate.
Carbohydrates increase blood sugar levels more than any other nutrient, so monitoring how many carbs your child consumes every day is another important aspect of blood sugar management.
Advanced meal planning is important, as your child’s daily insulin dosage is based on their insulin-to-carb ratio. They should be able to eat a variety of foods so long as you carefully plan out meals and spread their carb intake throughout the day.
Your child’s healthcare provider can help you determine your child’s target carb ratio. While this is a healthy baseline to aim for, blood sugar naturally fluctuates throughout the day. There may be times when additional carbs are needed to treat low blood sugar, or when extra insulin is required to bring high blood sugar levels down.
By no means should a type 1 diabetes diagnosis prevent your child from staying active. In fact, exercise offers individuals with type 1 diabetes additional benefits like lowering blood sugar and improving insulin sensitivity.
However, exercise may sometimes cause a drop in blood sugar levels, so it’s important to check blood sugar levels beforehand. Stock up on carbohydrate-rich snacks such as dried fruits, trail mix, or granola bars to treat low blood sugar, keeping in mind that physical activity is often more unplanned and spontaneous with children and adolescents than it is with adults.
The American Diabetes Association recommends giving 5-15 grams of carbs, depending on your child’s age and weight, for every 30 minutes of sustained physical activity in tandem with frequent monitoring of blood sugar levels.
Preparing for emergencies
Low blood sugar is also known as hypoglycemia. For many individuals with diabetes, hypoglycemia occurs when their blood sugar is less than 70 mg/dL. However, diabetes treatment plans are individualized, and your child may have a different blood sugar target range, so be sure to consult with your child’s physician.
There are many reasons why blood sugar may fall, including not eating enough, exercising too much, taking too much insulin, or not taking insulin at the right time. Initial signs of hypoglycemia include feeling sweaty, shaky, and hungry. As blood sugar drops further, additional symptoms include feeling weak, having difficulty walking or seeing clearly, getting disoriented, and having seizures.
If you notice any of these symptoms in your child, check their blood sugar and treat immediately with fast-acting sources of glucose, including fruit snacks, juice boxes, glucose tabs, or glucose gels. In cases of severe hypoglycemia — 55 mg/dL or less for many individuals with diabetes — glucagon can be used to restore blood sugar.
On the other end of the spectrum, a blood sugar of 180 mg/dL or higher is usually considered hyperglycemia or high blood sugar. It frequently occurs when too little insulin is taken for the amount of carbs consumed, but factors like illness, stress, and hormonal changes can also lead to hyperglycemia. Common signs include extreme thirst, frequent urination, or increased hunger.
If you notice any of these hyperglycemia symptoms in your child, check their blood sugar levels and follow the treatment plan your doctor has recommended, which may include a dose of rapid acting insulin, water, or other carbohydrate-free beverages.
A crucial step to preparing for emergency hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia is informing your child’s school of their type 1 diabetes diagnosis. View the JDRF’s back to school checklist for more on what your child’s teachers should know.
You never have to be alone on this journey. In addition to your child’s clinical team, other parents of children with diabetes, who know exactly what you’re going through, are a powerful resource. And for Lucinda and her family, growing a strong support network has been invaluable.
“Your child’s diabetes diagnosis changes everything in your life, and that’s the part that people don’t always get to discuss at the doctor’s office,” she said. “I wish I had known to connect with other parents of children with type 1 diabetes immediately.”
Visit the caregiving section of the American Diabetes Association’s online Support Community to start building your own network of parents who are also managing their children’s diabetes.
It’s also important to have a pharmacy that will advocate for your child’s care, as the condition involves a steep learning curve with medications and supplies.
“I never felt supported by a pharmacy until I used Alto for my son’s diabetes medications,” Lucinda said. “Questions about insurance coverage are handled seamlessly, and as a busy working mom, it’s so helpful to be able to quickly schedule a delivery in the app.”
She added, “With diabetes, any pharmacy missteps like improper medication packaging or storage can be life-threatening. It brings me so much peace of mind to know that I never have to worry about that with Alto.”
A diabetes pharmacy partner you can rely on
Alto is with you every step of the way in managing your child’s diabetes. We make it simple to follow the treatment plan your child’s doctor recommends, with proper packaging of temperature-controlled medications and free same-day delivery right to your doorstep.
We also offer extra support to address the challenges that are specific to managing diabetes, like getting started with insulin therapy. Our pharmacists are available to walk you through your child’s first insulin doses and discuss any symptoms or side effects to determine if an adjustment is needed.
And since a diabetes diagnosis brings lots of new insurance terminology related to your child’s medications and supplies, we compiled a guide that breaks down the key insurance terms you’re likely to encounter. We’ll tackle the administrative legwork, too, coordinating with your doctor’s office and submitting any necessary paperwork, so that you can focus on your child’s care instead of phone calls with your insurance provider.
Get started or learn more about Alto by reaching out at any time via phone at 1-800-874-5881 or in-app messaging.
This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.