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Traveling With Type 1 Diabetes - Parents: Always Be Prepared

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Traveling With Type 1 Diabetes - Parents: Always Be Prepared

Madison, Wisconsin - Parents always have to plan ahead when they travel with children. It's just a little more complicated when your child has type 1 diabetes.

"Families managing diabetes have more to prepare before traveling than the average family," says Lisa Bennett, UW Health Clinical Nurse Practitioner.

But she, along with Allison Pollock, UW Health Pediatric Endocrine Fellow, want to emphasize that kids with type 1 diabetes can do anything other kids can - sleepovers, road trips, even foreign travel. They just need to be ready with a game plan for the "what ifs."

Any routine change will alter your child's diabetes control, Pollock says. Of course, preparing for a sleepover is very different than three weeks in Spain, so the first thing you should do is evaluate the type of trip you're taking, and make a checklist of supplies and a to-do list based on that.

Happy family in van

Skiing or heading to the beach? Better pack an insulated cooler to keep insulin from getting too cold or too hot. Heading overseas? Try teaching your child a few phrases in that country's language, such as "I need sugar/juice."

It's also a good idea to talk about your travel plans with your child's doctor ahead of time to discuss any additional diabetes management plans. UW Health provides a letter parents can carry that states supplies and snacks are necessary for the patient to carry with them, which is great to have on hand in case airport security staff aren't familiar with persons with diabetes.

Finally, a little research can go a long way. Bennett suggests making a list of doctors, clinics and pharmacies along your route, in the event of illness or a supply issue.

Pollock recommends when you're packing those supplies, bring double what you use every day in case of emergency. Here's a general checklist to get you started:

  • Insulin and delivery system. Even if your child has a pump or pen, it's important to bring basic supplies like syringes with you on your trip in case the pump fails, there's a site issue, or your child gets ill.
    • Rapid-acting insulin (novolog, humalog or apidra)
    • Long-acting insulin (lantus or levemir)
    • Syringes
    • Sharps container
    • When relevant: Pen and pen needles; Pump and extra infusion sets and batteries
  • Testing supplies
    • Blood sugar meter (glucometer)
    • Blood sugar test strips
    • Lancets
    • Ketone strips. Check ketones if your child is sick or if you see multiple sugars in a row that are much higher than usual
  • Identification and paperwork
    • UW Health contact info (608-263-6420 and
    • Emergency contacts
    • Insurance card
    • Copy of diabetes management regimen / pump settings (dosing, correction dosing, carb ratios, etc.)
    • Medical ID bracelet or necklace
    • Doctor's letter from UW Health
  • Fast acting carbs for low sugars (glucose tabs, juice, etc.)
  • Snacks (complex carbs and proteins)
  • Glucagon kit for extreme lows

If you are flying, Pollock adds, these items should be packed in a carry-on bag and not checked, in case of emergency. (That's where a doctor's letter comes in handy.)

Once you're on the road (or in the air, in the woods or at sea), consistent monitoring is crucial. Even though finger pokes aren't fun, it's a good idea to check your child's blood sugar more often than usual. Hiking, splashing at a water park or exploring a new city on foot may be more activity than children are used to and can lower blood sugar levels. Pollock says many families tell her amusement parks trigger extreme lows, too, with all the added excitement and unusual foods. Finally, changing time zones can also affect timing of insulin regimen, and jet lag can make it hard to identify highs or lows just by symptoms.

The bottom line? Being prepared means you can have fun.

"We have so many kids that go camping and go to sleepovers, and teenagers who go on spring break and study abroad," Bennett says. "It takes extra work ahead of time, but if you have a plan, you can travel anywhere you want, and have fun doing it."

Date Published: 05/12/2015

News tag(s):  type1diabetes