First Aid for Diabetic Emergencies
The two primary emergencies that can arise in diabetic patients are very high and very low blood sugar.
In medical terms, high blood sugar is called hyperglycemia, low blood sugar is called hypoglycemia. In first aid, it is important to be able to recognize the warning signs of both low and high blood sugar levels.
Diabetic emergencies are common in the outdoor setting as diabetics frequently exert themselves too much, don’t stay well hydrated, and are not as careful about their food intake.
In addition, high blood sugar levels can be caused by other illnesses in diabetic patients. For example, infections can raise blood sugar levels to dangerous levels.
Low Blood Sugar Levels
Symptoms of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) include the following:
- Rapid onset of confusion, irritability, or combativeness
- Rapid pulse rate
- Shallow breathing
- Pale, clammy skin
- Loss of co-ordination, tremors, slurred speech
- Generalized weakness
- Headache, dizziness
The first aid treatment for low blood sugar levels is to give the patient sugar, followed by a complex carbohydrate. If the patient is unresponsive, urgent medical attention should be sought. All unresponsive patients should be placed into the recovery position (sometimes called the Safe Airway Position) in order to protect their airway.
High Blood Sugar Levels
Symptoms of high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) include the following:
- Slow onset of confusion and irritability
- Hunger, thirst and frequent urination
- Blurred vision
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal pain
- Fruity smelling breath
A patient with high blood sugar levels is likely to need medical attention. Do not delay in seeking advanced medical care. If they become unresponsive, protect the airway and turn them into the recovery position.