Halloween is, once again, nearly upon us. Soon children will be walking the streets of our neighborhoods dressed as ghosts and goblins to collect candy. They’ll smile as they shout “trick or treat,” and continue to the next house care free. But for children with type I diabetes, Halloween is not often such a simple affair.
Type I diabetes is most often diagnosed in children and young teenagers, and is a condition where the person’s immune system attacks the pancreas for some reason that is not completely understood. The pancreas produces the body’s supply of insulin, a hormone that helps cells remove sugar from the blood and store it for later use. When the body attacks the pancreas it prevents insulin from being produced, which results in too much sugar in the blood and not enough being stored. If untreated, this will be fatal, but fortunately there is a simple treatment. The type I diabetic must take insulin with every meal and snack.
I was diagnosed with type I diabetes when I was two years old, and have handled the disease for as long as I can remember. When I was still young enough to go trick-or-treating on Halloween, it was always difficult to manage my blood sugars. Like many people who have grown up with type I diabetes, I often missed out on the fun of Halloween (as well as birthday parties, Christmas parties, and other occasions calling for sweets). Halloween can be a stressful time for parents of diabetic children, so I have written this guide to help them control their child’s blood sugars.
Since I was first diagnosed, much has changed in how diabetes is treated. Fortunately, all of these changes have made it considerably easier to control. When I was first diagnosed, the machines used for testing blood sugar levels took over a minute to process a blood sample that was nearly pea-sized; these days, it takes 5 seconds to analyze a sample that is considerably smaller.
When I was young I took pork insulin, which reacted so slowly that I needed to inject the medication at least an hour before I ate. These days, synthesized versions of human insulin such as Humalog begin working in as little as 15 minutes. Furthermore, pork insulin was less reliable at keeping blood sugars level over long periods. These days, diabetics have two ways to keep blood sugars level throughout the day. They can either use an insulin pump, which delivers a small amount of fast-acting insulin on an hourly basis and then delivers larger amounts to counter meals. Alternately, diabetics can take a daily injection of a time-released insulin such as Lantus, and then an injection of a fast-acting insulin with each meal. Both of these methods make it much easier for diabetics to control their blood sugars and to live more normally.