“Camp wasn’t an option since my parents worried about my glucose levels overnight, but now we all get real-time readings.” EDEN, AGE 13
Managing diabetes is a 24/7 job. The latest tech makes it a little easier (and less worrisome) for teens—and their parents.
Between trying to pass physics class, going on first dates and, ugh, acne, adolescence is hard enough. But for teens with diabetes, it’s an even more challenging time. They get hit with a double biological whammy: Not only are their bodies having trouble producing or using insulin to process sugars in their blood, but surging teenage hormones can also cause a roller-coaster of blood sugar highs and lows. Plus, what teen wants to check their glucose levels multiple times a day in front of friends? Thankfully, smart technology is helping teens with diabetes stay on top of their chronic illness, sidestep complications and, well, just be kids again. When she was 10 years old, Eden Karp had a nearly fatal incident at sleepaway camp. Undiagnosed at the time, she progressed to a late stage of diabetic ketoacidosis, where acids dangerously build up in your bloodstream. She had a full recovery, but her parents worried about her being away from home at night, when her blood sugar could dip hazardously low. What’s more, routine finger pricks only give people with diabetes a snapshot of their glucose levels and zero information on how to proactively handle blood sugar highs and lows. So this Westfield, NJ, kid stopped going to sleepovers and put sleepaway camp on pause—until she started wearing a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) months later. Eden’s monitor gives her blood sugar readings anytime on her smartphone. The Dexcom device uses a super-thin sensor wire inserted just under the skin to detect glucose in the surrounding tissues every few minutes. It also shows where her numbers are headed, so she can adjust her medication to stay within a safe range. Teens can share their data wirelessly with parents, school nurses, coaches and doctors—meaning more adventures for kids and peace of mind for adults. “My parents can check their
phones to see how I’m doing,” says Eden. Even though newer models like the Freestyle Libre (the size of two stacked quarters) are more discreet, some with diabetes would rather not wear a device. But Eden feels safer with hers. “I don’t have to stress about my blood sugar,” she says. “I’m so thankful for that.” Determining the correct insulin dose requires math—a lot of math—before every meal and snack. It’s also restrictive. “If you give yourself an injection, you’re committing to eating that amount of carbs to match your insulin dose,” explains Francis Selldorff, 17, from Boston. You can’t just eat a few extra chips. Once you figure out how much of the hormone you need, then come the stares. Pulling out a syringe or insulin pen while at a restaurant or party can be embarrassing. “When I was on shots, I had to stop and take insulin no matter what I was doing,” says Katie Dean, 17, of Wetumpka, AL. “I looked weird when I pulled out my needle.” Insulin pumps, for those on daily insulin therapy, have the power to do away with anxiety and awkwardness. “You enter your number of carbs, press a button and it calculates your dose based on your ratios,” says Francis. “You can account for how little or how much you eat.” And no more injections. Another plus: With his pump attached to his body, Francis doesn’t have to take off his hockey pads to give himself a shot. His pump does all the work until it needs to be refilled (every three days). With new algorithms that automatically stop insulin when glucose levels are predicted to drop, pumps are becoming even smarter. The only downsides: They can be expensive (depending on your insurance), and some people with diabetes don’t want to be attached to a device 24/7.
“Using syringes— sometimes during hockey practice—was awkward. But now I don’t ever need to take off my pads for a shot.” FRANCIS, AGE 17
Eden periodically checks that her continuous glucose monitor is properly calibrated by pricking her finger and testing her glucose herself.
With Eden’s device, reviewing her glucose levels is as easy as opening an app.