Taking Care of Your Diabetes When You Are at School or Work
Like most people, you are busy—trying to accomplish a lot in a small amount of time. But when you have type 1 diabetes, you have to keep track of your blood glucose levels, give yourself medication, eat right, and exercise. These steps are essential to your health, and skipping any 1 of them can negatively impact your diabetes. When your days are filled with school or work, how can you put your health first and live your life?
Being at School
You have 5 classes, gym, and after-school activities, but you also have diabetes. What’s the best approach to manage all of this? Have a diabetes management plan in place and share this with the school staff—nurses, teachers, coaches, guidance counselor, cafeteria manager, recess monitor, and even bus drivers. The more people who know about your condition, the more support you will get.
Your parents can schedule a meeting at the school to go over your plan. This is important because everyone who works with you should understand the basics of diabetes and be familiar with complications that you can have. Also, you need the flexibility to test your blood sugar, give yourself an insulin injection, and have a snack or drink to treat low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). You may also need a schedule where you have lunch at the same time every day.
These steps can help you to get through your school day:
- Try to stick to your regular schedule of eating, testing glucose, giving yourself an injection, and being active.
- Do you have an especially busy day ahead? Any change to your schedule can affect diabetes. Have a kit on hand to treat hypoglycemia. This kit can include items like glucose tablets, fruit juice, soft drinks (with sugar), hard candy, or sugar packets. Ask your doctor how much you should take. For example, 3-4 glucose tablets may be what you need to adjust the levels. If you have an exam coming up or a strenuous gym class, remember to check your glucose right before.
- Prepare for the school day. Pack all of the supplies that you’ll need—testing strips, medications, and kit to treat hypoglycemia. You should also have back-up supplies in the nurse's office in case you forget or lose them. Bring a healthful lunch that includes snacks and drinks. Wear or carry identification that says you have diabetes. There are a lot more options than having to wear the stainless steel medic alert bracelet. Online, you can find jewelry in all kinds of styles that alert people to your condition. Keep emergency contacts in your desk, locker, and backpack.
- If your schedule has changed a lot, like participating more in sports, talk to your doctor. You may need a new diabetes management plan. In general, it is a good idea to exercise after lunch. Or, have a snack before being active.
- Find out what you should do if you have a substitute teacher or if the nurse is not in school. Keep a copy of your diabetes management plan at the school in case you need to show it to the staff.
- If you are bullied at school because you have diabetes, tell an adult right away. Talk to someone you trust, whether it is a parent, teacher, or guidance counselor. It is their job to keep you safe, and you have the right to feel comfortable in your school.
- Talk to your friends. Chances are they will be understanding about your condition and will offer support.
- Ask your doctor what the warning signs are for hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia. Know when you need to call for emergency services.
Being at Work
If you have diabetes, laws in the United States, such as the Americans With Disabilities Act, stop employers from firing, refusing to hire, or refusing to promote you because of your disability. The laws also mean that your employer must make accommodations for you. These can involve giving you extra time to test your blood glucose level, give yourself an injection or medication, and eat snacks and lunch. If you have problems related to diabetes, like poor vision or foot pain, your employer must also accommodate you. For example, if your job usually requires that you stand up for long periods, you may be allowed to do your work sitting down.
Following these strategies can help you manage your diabetes while climbing the corporate ladder:
- Share your diabetes management plan with your boss, coworkers, and nurse or medical team (if your company has one). It is important that they know what to do if you have a complication. In your desk and car, keep items like glucose tablets, hard candy, sugar packets, fruit juice, and soft drinks (with sugar) to treat hypoglycemia, or have money for a vending machine. Ask your doctor how much you should take to bring the glucose levels back up.
- If your work schedule changes, talk to your doctor. Your diabetes management plan may need to be revised.
- Prepare for your work day by packing everything that you’ll need—diabetes supplies (such as testing strips, syringes, needles, batteries for meters and pumps) and medicine. In addition to carrying a diabetes identification card in your wallet, remember to wear your medic alert bracelet. If you feel uncomfortable wearing it, look online to find ID bracelets, necklaces, and charms in many styles. Keep emergency contacts in your desk or backpack.
- Take the time to prepare a healthful lunch that includes fresh fruits and veggies. For busy days, have on hand canned soup, tuna, fruit juice, and vegetable juice. Going out to lunch? Read the menu first; many restaurants post their menus online. Once there, make good choices, like ordering a broth-based soup or salad, skipping the rolls and butter, eating smaller portions, and splitting dessert. In general, try to eat lunch at the same time every day.
- Exercise can help your body use insulin better. Take a half hour to walk or workout in the gym. To avoid hypoglycemia, exercise after eating lunch or have a snack before the activity. You should also test your glucose.
- If you have an especially demanding task, test your blood sugar right before.
- Be sure you know what symptoms should trigger you to call the doctor right away.
Whether you are preparing for an exam or trying to meet a deadline at work, you still need to monitor your diabetes. This all comes down to being prepared and having good communication with your doctor.
American Diabetes Association
National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse
Canadian Diabetes Association
Public Health Agency of Canada
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Last reviewed July 2016 by Michael Woods, MD Last Updated: 10/22/2014