Q: Our son's blood sugar seems to be creeping higher since winter set in. Are there any special cold weather tips for his diabetes care?
A: In climates where winter means snow, ice and frigid temperatures, it's not unusual for children with type 1 diabetes to experience a gradual creep in blood sugar levels. There can be a number of reasons for this, but the common weather-related explanation is that when it's cold out, kids are more likely to stay inside and less likely to engage in physical activity.
Of course, based on their sports preferences, some kids actually become more active in the winter months. But if your son's activity levels could use some "winter-proofing," check out local indoor pools, invest in a few dance-along video games, or check into indoor non-competitive sports programs offered through your town recreation department or school. When you find a program that looks appealing and fits your budget, think about participating as a family or have your son invite a friend to participate, too. Getting active together is good for everyone and makes it more likely that a child will stick with it.
On days when it's not so cold, make it a point to get outside for some fresh air and sun. This combination can be a great mood lifter and only requires a little extra attention to care routines. Whether you head out to a sledding hill or decide to give snowshoeing a try, keep diabetes supplies somewhere insulated; an inner jacket pocket is often perfect. When testing outside, make sure finger tips are warm for good blood flow before lancing.
Besides the weather, winter can pose other challenges for children with diabetes. During "cold and flu" season, even a mild upper respiratory illness can put stress on the body and as a result, cause blood sugars to rise. Help your son avoid cold bugs by keeping up good hand washing and hygiene habits. Flu shots are also recommended, because having the flu can make blood sugar management difficult, and children may be more likely to require additional medical care.
Another way winter can wreak havoc on blood sugar management? We tend to eat a lot over the winter months, especially around festive occasions. Every child should be able to enjoy a special treat, but often we have a tendency to overdo it. Remember, moderation is the key.
To really understand what's at the root of your son's "winter creep," now may be an ideal time to contact your diabetes care team to review and analyze blood sugar trends and learn how to adjust insulin accordingly. What else can you do? Make sure your son is following the basics of good health by testing frequently, sleeping well, eating a balanced diet, and trying to maintain a routine -- all can help sustain healthy blood sugar levels no matter what time of year it is.
--P.J. Zimakas, M.D., F.A.A.P., is the director of pediatric endocrinology at Vermont Children's Hospital at Fletcher Allen Health Care and associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine in Burlington.
How Other Parents Deal
"For an easier time testing outside, look for gloves that have a fold-over mitten cover for the fingertips. They're helpful for people who use their smartphones during cold weather, but they're also a dream for finger pricks, because kids don't need to remove their gloves. No more cold hands!"
--Jennifer B., mom of Evan
Disclaimer: The information in these articles is not intended as medical advice. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding individual care.