Parents & teachers guide for managing diabetes in children

Two children eating lollipops

The International Diabetes Federation has estimated 1.8 million South Africans are living with diabetes and these figures are expected to rise. Diabetes mellitus is a critical and chronic medical condition where the pancreas produces too little or no insulin. The disease usually appears in adolescence, which is why parents, primary caregivers and teachers need to be aware of the symptoms of diabetes in children and the necessary care plans that will ensure healthy living with the condition. Bloom Financial Services teamed up with Momentum’s Health4Me, to provide a guide about how parents and teachers can go about recognising and managing diabetes in children.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes mellitus is a chronic metabolic disease that interferes with the body’s ability to process food, particularly sugars from carbohydrates into fuel. This results in high blood sugar (hyperglycaemia). If a child is diagnosed with diabetes type 1, it means their pancreas produces an insufficient amount of insulin, which is the hormone required to regulate sugar levels. Without insulin, their blood sugar will rise and, if left untreated, extended high blood sugar levels can cause damage to one’s organs like the eyes, kidneys, nerves, heart and/or blood vessels.

Diabetes in children: the difference between diabetes type I & type II

Type 1 diabetes, or insulin-dependent diabetes, is an autoimmune disease and commonly affects children. Medical experts are unsure what causes Type 1 Diabetes in children but it’s believed to be a combination of genetics and exposure to viruses and environmental factors. Your child’s pancreas will not produce enough insulin, which causes their body’s blood glucose levels to rise. Type 1 Diabetes typically presents itself between the ages of five to 13.

Typical symptoms of diabetes in children include:

  • Frequent urination (especially at night)
  • Extreme thirst
  • Fatigue
  • Compromised vision
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Increased hunger
  • Irritability or mood swings

Identifying and diagnosing a child with Type 1 Diabetes early on is important because their bodies require insulin in order in order to process the glucose from their blood into energy. Untreated and uncontrolled diabetes is dangerous, resulting in illness, organ damage and other medical complications.

Type 2 Diabetes, or adult-onset diabetes, is the most common form of diabetes and usually presents itself during middle-age or old-age. While the symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes are similar to Type 1, this form of the disease can also make patients insulin resistant. It is often caused by obesity, high blood pressure, and poor lifestyle habits

What parents can do for diabetes in children

Parents and caregivers who have a child that has been diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes will need to start a diabetes care plan, which they will need to supervise until their child develops the physical and cognitive abilities to manage their own diabetic treatment plan. It’s important that parents instil good habits and a positive attitude about the condition with their child as this will have a major impact on how they address their condition later in life. The diabetes care plan for parents includes four essential parts: regularly checking blood sugar levels, taking insulin, sticking to a healthy diet and making sure your child partakes in regular exercise.

1. Checking blood sugar levels

This is something that needs to be checked every day. It can be done with a blood glucose metre or with a continuous glucose monitor. The blood glucose metre help checks blood sugar levels before meals about three to four times per day, whereas the continuous glucose monitor is a device that your child will wear that measures blood glucose constantly with a sensor that is secured under their skin.

2. Taking insulin

Children with diabetes will need to take insulin based on a schedule designed by their medical team. This can be administered with an injection, twice per day, or through an insulin pump that injects the insulin through a tube that is placed under their skin.

3. Sticking to a healthy diet

Diet is very important when it comes to managing Type 1 Diabetes as food affects one’s blood sugars. A nutritionist or dietician can help parents develop a diabetic meal plan for their child that will ensure your child’s blood sugars are kept within the healthy range.

4. Regular exercise

Exercise is another essential component of a diabetic care plan. This is because regular physical activity strengthens a child’s muscles and bones, which help control their blood sugar levels. It’s also believed to aid in the performance of insulin. Children with Type 1 Diabetes should aim to complete 60 minutes of physical activity every day. Exercise can vary according to what’s available in your local community and what your child enjoys. It doesn’t have to be a team sport. Walking the dog or riding a bike all count in the exercise department.

What schools can do for managing diabetic learners

Schools and teachers are encouraged to work, together with parents, to form a diabetes management plan for learners with diabetes. Parents will need to inform the school management board and the school nurse about their child’s condition so they can alert teachers, schools staff and nutrition service people about a learner with special needs.

A school diabetes management plan should be individualised for each child, which should include:

  • Their target blood sugar range
  • Specific details about whether a child needs assistance in checking their blood glucose levels
  • The child’s low blood sugar symptoms and how to treat low blood sugar issues
  • Access to their insulin and/or any other medication required
  • Meals or snacks for special events

Parents should include a diabetes check-list or pack for the school or school staff member who is appointed as your child’s carer during school hours.

This should include the following:

  • Blood sugar metre (inclusive of spare batteries)
  • Ketone testing supplies
  • Insulin (inclusive of syringes or insulin pump)
  • Water/snacks
  • Glucose tablets or fast-acting carbohydrates that raise blood sugar levels quickly

As part of the school diabetes management plan, a child with Type 1 Diabetes should wear a medical ID necklace or bracelet.

Chronic benefits for diabetes on Health4Me

Chronic medication is covered for members with Type 1 Diabetes under the Chronic Benefits of the Health4Me Gold health insurance plan. Policyholders who have added a child onto their plan at a cost of R289 per month will receive unlimited cover for their chronic medication in accordance with Momentum’s CareCross Network of prescribed chronic medication formulary. This benefit covers medication for Diabetes Type 1, Diabetes Type 2 and Diabetes Insipidus.

Keep your children safe with a comprehensive health insurance plan

Type 1 Diabetes, like many chronic conditions, requires lifelong care and treatment. Keep your family safe by ensuring they have access to top-quality medical services with a health insurance plan from Momentum Health4Me. Contact Bloom’s office to speak to a trained consultant who can advise you about the best medical insurance plan for your family’s needs.

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You understand and acknowledge that all users of the Bloom Financial Services website are responsible for their own medical care, treatment, and oversight. All content provided on the website, is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Neither is it intended to be a substitute for an independent professional medical opinion, judgement, diagnosis or treatment.