If you have diabetes, you need certain things accessible to you at all times. Not sure what should go in your diabetes toolkit? Here's a list of items to consider.
As people with any types of diabetes -- especially those of us who use insulin -- we simply cannot leave the house empty-handed. Simply forgetting to pack the needed supplies for insulin injections for example when you’re headed to a restaurant to dine with friends isn’t just an inconvenience, it could put you at high risk for serious complications and health problems that result in needing expensive and time-consuming medical care from a health care provider.
Blood glucose levels are never still for long, which means people with diabetes need diabetes management tools and diabetes medicines with them at all times -- when you’re sleeping, when you’re participating in physical activity, when you’re at work, when you’re at school, and even when you’re simply popping into the grocery store for a few items.
Here are the must-carry and good-to-carry items for everyone with diabetes to consider. If any of these items are part of your diabetes management plan, don't leave home without them.
The Must-Carry Items
If you are insulin dependent for your diabetes management, leaving the house without your rapid-acting insulin means you’re unable to eat food or correct high blood sugar levels. If you did find yourself eating a meal and realized you don’t have your insulin with you, it means your blood sugar is likely going to be sky-high by the time you do get home.
If you’ve left for an overnight trip without your rapid-acting insulin, this could easily lead to life-threatening high blood sugar levels.
Your long-acting “background” insulin is crucial, too. Missing the time of your long-acting insulin dose by a few hours isn’t likely going to do much harm, but missing this dose by 6 hours or more will put you at a higher risk of dangerously high blood sugars. Missing several doses will contribute to an increased risk of severe complications over time.
For those with type 1 diabetes, missing a single dose of your background insulin for this many hours can easily lead to large ketones or life-threatening diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA).
If you rely on insulin to manage your blood glucose levels, leaving the house without it puts you at increased risk. You never know if your “quick trip” might turn into something longer because of something even as simple as a flat-tire, a snow storm, or a sick child. Meeting a friend for a walk could easily turn into a walk and a quick lunch! Take your insulin with you -- wherever you go!
Remember, once opened, insulin needs to be kept at room temperature -- not too hot and not too cold -- which means you shouldn’t leave it in the sun or in your car during colder winter months and hot summer months. Keep it with you!
Glucose Meter & Test Strips
How will you know how much insulin to take if you can’t check your blood sugar level? Whether you’re about to eat a meal, you’re headed to the playground with your kids, or you’re about to drive your car, knowing exactly where your blood sugar level is at is critical to your safety and the safety of those around you, even if you have a healthy diet, healthy weight, and a meal plan in place!
And of course, make sure you have enough test strips in the container to make it through a day or two. If you’re down to just a few strips, definitely pack a new container of strips to bring along with you, always anticipating that you may need more.
It is very wise to keep this stuff on you in case you get sick, because having a sick day can really send your blood sugar soaring from simple dehydration!
Even if you use a CGM, you’ll still want to have a glucometer and strips on-hand! Even CGMs can have fail, and you’ll find yourself needing to rely on traditional diabetes technology, like test strips and meters!
Do keep in mind that glucose meters won’t operate if they get too hot or too cold, generally between 40 to 100 degrees, which means you shouldn’t leave it in your car or outside in the sun or cold for any length of time.
Oral meds or non-insulin injectables
If you take any non-insulin diabetes medications with your meals, don’t leave home without them! If you’ve found yourself forgetting them on more than one occasion, it may be a good idea to tuck a couple pills in a pocket or keep a couple in the glove compartment of your car.
Depending on how you manage your diabetes, having back-up supplies with you could mean a variety of different things.
Syringes or Pen Needles
If you take multiple daily injections (MDI), you’ll always want to make sure you have at least a half-dozen syringes or pen needles with your insulin kit. Always, always, always anticipate needing more than just one injection when you leave the house.
Can’t check your blood sugar if you can’t prick your finger! Just like syringes or pen needles, you should anticipate needing many more than just one or two when you leave the house. This comes to being prepared for the unexpected that could make your trip longer than planned. Always keep a few extra lancets tucked in your glucose monitor kit.
If you use an insulin pump or pod system, you likely already know how easily things can go suddenly wrong with a cannula or simply reaching the expiration of your pod while you’re out with friends. This is why you should absolutely always have at least one back-up infusion site or pod with you along with your fast-acting insulin. And don’t forget a few alcohol swabs, too!
The same goes for your continuous glucose monitor. If you rely on your CGM for moment-by-moment blood sugar readings, you should keep a back-up transmitter with you if you’re leaving the house without a glucose monitor. For some, going a few hours without a CGM may be no big deal but for others -- especially children or those who struggle with hypoglycemia unawareness -- a few hours without a working CGM can be dangerous. And don’t forget a few alcohol swabs, too!
A Portable Sharps Container
Even when you’re out and about, it’s important not to toss syringes or lancets (or other sharp medical equipment) into the trash where it could potentially puncture the hands of waste-management staff. Instead, designate a pocket or small container you can easily carry with you to dispose of diabetes-related sharps.
For anyone taking insulin or another medication capable of causing low blood sugar, you should have fast-acting carbohydrates stored in your car, your purse, your partner’s car, a fanny pack while you exercise, and in your general diabetes kit.
Everywhere you go, fast-acting carbohydrates should go with you.
Remember, the type of fast-acting carbohydrate you choose should be able to tolerate hot and cold weather (so it doesn’t melt, freeze, or rot). It’s also helpful to choose something that can treat multiple lows.
For example, a bag of gummy LifeSaver candies can treat far more than just one or two low blood sugars. A single tube of glucose tabs is great for one or two low blood sugars. Whatever you choose, think about it’s tolerance for temperature and how many lows it can treat.
The Good-To-Carry Items
If you don’t already own a diabetes case that holds all of your most critical blood sugar management supplies, it’s time to get one! Insulin, other medications, test-strips, glucose monitor, syringes, and pen needles -- those are the absolute essentials for a diabetes case.
If you don’t store your fast-acting carbohydrates somewhere else already, get a case that’s big enough to hold at least one tube of glucose tabs or a small bag of gummy fruits, too.
A Few Dollars
Tuck a few $1 bills or a $5 bill in that diabetes case, too. You never know when you may need to pop into a convenience store to buy a bottle of juice or fast-acting carbohydrates when you’re out and about.
The Frio is by far the quickest, most affordable, and most efficient way of protecting your insulin from hot and cold temperatures if you need to leave your insulin and diabetes case in the car or another extreme temperature location (like at the beach or while skiing). The Frio is activated with water and keeps your insulin (and other non-insulin injectables) safe!
If you’re running errands, on the road for work, or so busy at work or school that you didn’t have a chance to pack a meal for healthy eating, it can be helpful to have a few go-to bars that won’t take their toll on your blood sugar. Depending on your tolerance for sugar alcohols (like xylitol or erythritol), there are many low-carb bars options at your local health food grocery store. If sugar alcohols tend to bother your digestive system, look for natural sweeteners or non-alcohol sweeteners like stevia. If a quick meal or snack bar keeps you from heading into McDonald’s or another fast-food joint, it’s worth it. (Then try to make sure your next meal consists primarily of real, whole foods!)
For some, diabetes can lead to very dry skin. Finding yourself dry and itchy without any moisturizing lotion nearby can be agonizing! Visit the “travel size” section of your favorite pharmacy to get a fragrance-free and dye-free moisturizer!
There’s no way around it. No matter what type of diabetes you live with, whether it's prediabetes, type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, LADA, MODY, or gestational diabetes, living with diabetes comes with the responsibility of carrying certain things with you everywhere you go--you play the biggest role in your health care team. Diabetes care can be stressful, and it's sometimes difficult to stay organized and keep everything with you, but it comes down to ensuring you are safe and healthy, keeping risk factors for complications at bay so you can make managing your health condition as easy as possible. Even just a few hours without your essential diabetes tools and medications can be scary, life-threatening, and dangerous. If you don’t have a great diabetes case already, let this list inspire you, and then check out Diathrive’s Myabetic bags--whether you’re looking for a sleek wallet to carry your supplies in, or if you’re looking to have an organized travel carry-all, there’s a Myabetic bag for you!