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October 31, 2019
Since a hypoglycemic attack often occurs without warning, planning and preparation are essential for all children with diabetes. That’s especially true for teens behind the wheel of a car. Driving with low blood sugar can be dangerous and even life-threatening, but there are steps a family can take to prepare in case the situation presents itself.
Teens with diabetes need to know the status of their blood glucose level at all times but especially before they get behind the wheel. If their blood sugar level is above 70 milligrams per deciliter, they should be safe to get behind the wheel. If that level is at or below 70 milligrams per deciliter, however, they need to take action to raise that number before they start driving. To get their blood glucose back to an appropriate level, teens should immediately act by consuming 15 grams of a fast-acting carbohydrate in the form of juice, soda or a snack bar.
After 15 minutes, teens should recheck their blood glucose level to make sure the food or drink is doing its job. Once the blood sugar level rises above the healthy level of 70 milligrams per deciliter, another snack with complex carbs and proteins will ensure that the blood glucose stays at an appropriate level. Yogurt with fruit, apples with peanut butter, or almonds are good choices.
A teen with diabetes knows their body better than anyone else. Chances are, they have already experienced a hypoglycemic episode at some point in their life. Therefore, they recognize the warning signs. Still, with countless distractions like smartphones, the radio and other people in the car, teens must remain mindful of their own body and be aware of any signs that they may be at risk for low blood sugar.
Headaches, sweating, weakness, confusion and shakiness or tremors can all be symptoms of low blood sugar. If a teen experiences any of these while driving, they should pull over immediately and check their blood glucose level. If it is at or below 70 milligrams per deciliter, the "rule of 15" with 15 grams of a fast-acting carbohydrate and testing again 15 minutes later should be implemented. Teens should not resume driving until the symptoms have subsided and their blood glucose level rises above 70 milligrams per deciliter once again.
Much like children who carry a "go-bag" with diabetes equipment with them to school, teens should have everything they need to manage low blood sugar on-the-go available in their car. Glucose meters, snacks and a glucagon kit are essential items for teens with diabetes. While glucose meters should need to be readily available, they should not be kept in the car at all times. Extreme hot or cold temperatures can cause damage to the meter and limit its ability to provide accurate glucose readings.
As severe low blood sugar can lead to a seizure or unconsciousness, teens with diabetes should also have medical identification in the event of an accident. A bracelet, necklace or anything else on the body that identifies them as someone with diabetes is essential for first responders so they can immediately check glucose levels and administer the necessary treatment. It could mean the difference between life and death after an accident.
The Arkansas Children’s Diabetes Clinic deals with newly diagnosed or follow-up diabetes patients, offering a broad multidisciplinary approach to diabetes management. For appointments, call 501-236-4949. For more information, the Diabetes Clinic also provides the Diabetes 101 Booklet and Diabetes School Management Plan.