University of Illinois Extension

Sick Days

Kids with diabetes get sick like anybody else. Children who have good blood glucose control don’t usually get sick more often. However, consistently high blood glucose can make it easier to get sick. When there’s glucose to spare, bacteria grow better. Also, the immune system doesn’t work as well to get rid of germs. This is yet another reason why it’s important to maintain target blood glucose levels.

Insulin needs change during illness. Even if the child is not eating well, the stress of being sick can increase the need for insulin. Kids may need more frequent or higher doses of rapid-acting insulin. On the other hand, eating very poorly or vomiting can lower insulin needs. When the child is sick, be in close contact with the health care provider to determine how to adjust the insulin.

Blood and urine should be tested more often for ketones when the child is sick. This will help determine what amount of insulin should be given.

  • Blood glucose should be checked about 4 times per day.
  • Urine should be tested often for ketones.
  • Blood and urine should be checked more frequently (every 2 hours) if the child is vomiting or has large amounts of ketones in the urine.

Dehydration can easily develop when a child is sick. This can interfere with blood glucose control and can lead to ketoacidosis. If the child can eat, he should drink plenty of water or sugar-free drinks that have few calories (soda, powdered lemonade, iced tea, etc.). If the child is not eating, has vomiting or diarrhea, or has ketones in the urine, drinks should contain carbohydrates and calories (regular soda, juice). If vomiting and diarrhea persist, the child may need fluids that have both carbohydrate and sodium to replace electrolytes (Sprite or 7-Up, chicken soup, Pedialyte, etc.).

The regular meal plan should be followed as much as possible. Small meals and more frequent snacks may be better tolerated than three meals. Here are some examples of foods that are easier on the stomach and contain 15 grams of carbohydrates.

  • ¾ cup (6 fluid oz) ginger ale or cola
  • ¼ cup (2 fluid oz) milkshake
  • ¼ cup sherbet
  • ½ cup ice cream
  • ½ cup cooked cereal
  • ½ cup sweetened gelatin
  • 2 cups broth-based soup
  • 1 cup cream-based soup
  • 1 slice of toast
  • 6 saltines

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends giving sick children foods with complex carbohydrates (such as rice, cereal, fruits, and vegetables) and protein (lean meat, yogurt).

It may be helpful to put together a plan for sick days. This plan should include guidelines for:

  • When to call the health provider (include phone numbers next to this information)
  • Adjusting insulin and the meal plan
  • Checking blood glucose and urine

For a printable version of sick day tips, click here.