Awareness and First Aid

More and more children are being diagnosed with diabetes. Here’s how to identify it, how it’s diagnosed, and how a healthier lifestyle can keep it under control.

When a child is diagnosed with diabetes it’s usually type 1. Type 2 is rarer and is triggered by obesity, and a sedentary lifestyle – both of which are common in a tech-driven world. A 2021 US study revealed a 95% increase in people under age 20 living with type 2 diabetes between 2001-17.

Despite this spike, many people don’t know how to identify diabetes symptoms in their child. This results in many untreated cases.

Identifying key type 2 diabetes symptoms

It’s important to observe your child closely. Sometimes what looks like normal or healthy behaviour, like drinking lots of water, and frequent urination, could be a sign of type 2 diabetes. Besides increased thirst and frequent urination, other symptoms include fatigue and blurry vision.

If you notice nothing else, a tell-tale sign that may be present is darkening skin in the neck, underarms and between the thighs, which is a prominent visual symptom. If you notice any of these, you still need a doctor to confirm the diagnosis.

How doctors diagnose type 2 diabetes

Initially, a doctor will look at medical history, blood sugar levels, and do a physical exam to determine a diagnosis. But sometimes these can be unclear, so to further confirm, they’ll draw blood and send it for lab tests to determine average blood sugar levels and glucose tolerance.

They may also do a urine test to confirm whether it contains protein. This will indicate any kidney diabetes-related kidney damage.

Treatment for type 2 diabetes

Blood sugar control is the most crucial factor in treating diabetes. It follows that testing blood sugar levels regularly is important. To control blood sugar, patients are prescribed tablets such as metformin. Unlike with type 1, insulin is only administered when blood sugar levels cannot be controlled by oral medication.

Dr Narisha Sewgoolam, a physician at Mediclinic Pietermaritzburg, says exercise can also help control blood sugar. This is because exercise makes the body more sensitive to insulin, which lowers blood sugar. “When muscles contract, they can take up more glucose. This leads to lower blood sugar,” she explains.

Exercise also aids weight loss, and the blood glucose-lowering effects of a workout can last for up to 24 hours. “This in turn reduces the risk of developing diabetic complications like cardiovascular disease, as well as eye and kidney complications,” Dr Sewgoolam adds.

What to do in a diabetic emergency

Two types of diabetic emergencies exist:

  • Hyperglycaemia, when blood glucose readings are too high
  • Hypoglycaemia, when readings are too low.

Both conditions can lead to a diabetic coma and kidney damage.

ER24 Advanced Life Support (ALS) Paramedic Tao Carstens says hypoglycaemia is identified by cold and damp skin and you can treat it by placing jam or something else sweet inside the child’s cheek if they are conscious.

Hyperglycaemia is not as simple and is best left for paramedics to treat. “The best thing you can do is put the patient into the recovery position and wait for medics to arrive.” Sometimes the child will have a seizure due to hyperglycaemia. It’s crucial for parents not to panic in these situations, Carstens adds. “The important thing is to allow the seizure to pass, and when they’re done place them in the recovery position.”

Always call ER24 on 084 124 for real help, real fast. While you wait for paramedics to arrive, you’ll be kept on the line with a qualified emergency medical services (EMS) practitioner who can assist and advise you with your emergency.