There's little doubt that living with diabetes brings surprises almost every day, particularly its physical side effects and impacts, ranging from the calloused fingers of daily BG testing to the longer term-side effects like eye and kidney damage. Yet nothing prepared our family for the unusual and difficult-to-diagnose side effect that diabetes has rained down upon my son during the last five months.
In mid-September, as my son was trying to acclimate to his freshman year in high school, he began complaining of intense itching attacks that started at his feet and spread throughout his entire body, including his scalp. The "itches" as we have come to call these attacks occurred whenever his body temperature was elevated, like when he was in PhysEd, or when he became nervous or stressed (which is often in the life of a teenager), or if he was sitting in the direct sunlight. According to my son, the itches felt "like a million bees swarming under my skin and stinging me."
His only relief? Time and some vigorous scratching.
The first physician's visit in what turned out to be a very long journey was to our primary care doctor, who, in reality, came closest to the actual issue before we had it diagnosed. Our doctor felt the symptoms were a systemic reaction caused by some allergen, possibly due in part to my son's diabetes.
We had routine blood tests done and made an appointment with an allergist. While at the allergist, my son was tested for tens of every-day allergens, which netted us this good news: we got to keep our cats and dog. However, the bad news: no diagnosis for a root cause of the "itches" beyond a possible case of scabies (which proved naught).
As the weeks passed and my son tried to carry on the normal life of a high schooler, his symptoms continued to increase in severity and frequency. Our next focal point was a potential allergy or intolerance to insulin. Working with our CDE and primary care doctor, my son went off the pump and switched from Novalog to pen injections of Lantus and Apidra. The results were some very crazy BG readings and but continued and increasing itching.
Things turned terrifying in early November when my son texted me from his first period English class saying that the "itches" were so bad that he could barely walk.
Thank goodness that our primary care doctor is available by phone even when he's on vacation. He ordered more blood tests and a chest X-ray, and we began chasing down some of the more scary causes that have systemic itching as a symptom, starting with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. A trip to a pediatric hematologist oncologist and more blood work offered us a welcome reprieve: no signs of blood cancer.
However, the itching attacks continued with heightened ferocity, forcing my son often to leave in the middle of his classes to get some relief. Fortunately, because of his Type 1 Diabetes, he is able to exit class fairly freely and most of his teachers and the administrative staff were exceptionally supportive.