The siren call of water parks, theme parks, and ice cream seems to grow louder this time of year, as summer starts to wane. Children and their families will be traveling to beaches and ball parks and having other adventures before school bells ring and homework becomes a necessity. But how do kids with type 1 or type 2 diabetes safely navigate summer? Is it even possible?
“One of our goals for children with diabetes is to help them live as normal a life as possible,” says Scott Clements, M.D., at St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings, Montana. “So, absolutely they should be able to go to swimming parks, theme parks, and baseball games. Diabetes just requires a little more planning ahead.”
“I really stress to each patient from day one of diagnosis that you are a normal, healthy, happy kid/teenager/young adult,” says Megan Howard, R.N., at St. Vincent Healthcare. “You just happen to have diabetes. I stress the normalcy of things from day one.”
Still, children with diabetes have special challenges in the summer. Counting the number of carbohydrates they’re consuming so they know how much insulin they need to take can be difficult when they’re eating things they usually don’t. At a baseball game, for instance, they may not know how many carbohydrates are in the hot dog, the drink, or the chips.
Another challenge can involve changes in the rigor or frequency of activity. If kids are going to be super active at a swimming park or pool all day, for instance, they may have to test their blood sugar more than usual in case levels get low.
“Some children think vacation is a time not to think about their diabetes, but it’s extra important to do extra testing of the blood sugar to make sure you’re not going too high or too low,” Dr. Clements says.
Children with diabetes must take all their medical supplies with them wherever they go. Usually they have a small kit, says Dr. Clement, that includes syringes, vials of medication, a glucometer to check blood sugar, and the strips that go with that. Most children also bring juice, Smarties, M&M’s, or fruit snacks that they can eat when their blood sugar goes low.
Insulin requires extra care. Temperature extremes can damage it. You can’t let it get too cold on a camping trip in the mountains. You can’t leave it in a hot car. You have to plan ahead.
Testing in front of their friends can sometimes lead to embarrassment for a newly diagnosed child, or even a child who has lived with the disease for a while. “It can be hard because diabetes is a lot of work,” says Dr. Clements. Kids have to check their blood sugar and may take insulin four, five, or six times a day. “It can be embarrassing to do that in front of other people, but over time you get used to it and a lot of that embarrassment does go away.”
Make sure your friends know about your diabetes, Dr. Clements says to his patients. Do not hide it. Yes, in the beginning it can be difficult but you just have to realize your body needs the attention so you can be happy and healthy and live a long life.
To summarize the experts’ advice about safe summer travel:
Plan ahead. Spontaneous trips are much harder to do with diabetes.
Take sufficient supplies. A good rule of thumb is to pack at least double what you think your child will need.
Talk with a diabetes educator who can help you and your child plan and prepare.
Test, test, test.
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Cindy Uken is a veteran, award-winning health writer living in Palm Springs. She has worked at newspapers in California, South Dakota, Minnesota, Montana and at USA Today. Cindy received a 2013-2014 Rosalynn Carter Fellowship for Mental Health Journalism, chosen as one of the California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships, inducted into the Yankton (S.D.) High School Fine Arts Hall of Fame, nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for her work on Montana’s suicide rate, and named one of Gannett’s Top Ten Supervisors of the Year. Follow Cindy on Twitter @CindyUken, on Facebook and at CindyUken.com.