How to Handle High Blood Sugar Emergencies at Work
Diabetes emergencies can happen anytime, anywhere! The longer you live with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, the more likely you are to run into a situation where you need help from someone else to treat it. Letting your employer and coworkers know you have diabetes could save your life.
Here are some tips for talking to your employer and colleagues when you run into a high blood sugar emergency at work.
Know your rights
Before talking to your employer about diabetes emergencies like high blood sugar or severe high blood sugar at work, you need to know your rights. No law says you must disclose you have diabetes to your employer or colleagues. Your employer cannot ask you about your medical conditions before offering you a job.
If you decide to let your employer know that you have diabetes, they must keep that information confidential. However, some job offers may depend on your ability to pass a medical evaluation after your initial offer—for example: applying to be a police officer or firefighter. (For the record, there are people with diabetes who are police officers and firefighters!) Your assessment results will only affect your offer if they prevent you from doing your job or put your coworkers at risk.
Your decision to tell your boss or co-workers about your diabetes is entirely up to you! No one can force you to share your medical profile.
First, decide how transparent you want to be
Just because you have diabetes doesn’t mean you have to announce it companywide.
Here are some questions you should ask yourself to decide how many people you want to tell and how you prefer them to handle it at work.
- Am I comfortable telling my entire company about my diabetes, a trusted few co-workers, only my boss, or do I want to keep it to myself?
- Do I understand the risks if I tell no one I have diabetes at work?
- If I decide to tell no one, what is my backup plan? Do I plan to text my partner, spouse, sibling, parent, or friend if a diabetes emergency occurs at work?
- If I decide to tell no one, and I experience severe hypoglycemia at work that leaves me unable to ask for help, what is my safety plan then?
- Do I want to tell my trusted coworkers a little bit about my diabetes, or do I want to inform them of everything I go through with diabetes?
By answering these questions, you can develop a clear plan to act on with your boss or coworkers or develop another system you feel comfortable with that excludes your colleagues.
Once you decide who you want to share with and how much, ask to have short one-on-one meetings to explain your situation and share valuable information with them that could help you in case of emergencies.
Here is what you should consider addressing with your employer or coworkers regarding high blood sugar, severe high blood sugar, or diabetes technology failure at work.
High blood sugar
High blood sugar levels are one diabetes emergency you may encounter at work.
As blood sugar levels rise, people with diabetes are at risk for complications. High blood sugar levels tend to fall within the 9.99 to 13.875 mmol/l180 to 250 mg/dL range for many people with diabetes, but some endocrinologists may identify this differently with their patients. Everyone experiences diabetes differently.
Pump site failures, stress, hormones, forgetting your insulin at home and simply managing your blood sugar after a basic meal can all lead to high blood sugar levels at work.
Though high blood sugar levels may not feel as severe as lows at work, they can become dangerous the longer they are left untreated. (Not to mention, elevated blood sugars can also leave you feeling lousy and make it more challenging to perform your job.)
Here are some questions you should ask yourself to treat high blood sugars at work and communicate about them effectively with your team:
- Should I bring insulin to my next meeting?
- If I get high blood sugar during a long meeting or work task, how can I propose a short recess or break to get the insulin I need?
- Where can I store insulin safely when I’m working outdoors?
- If I am on multiple daily injections and fear not being able to get my syringes, would wearing an insulin pump make me feel better at work?
- If I forget my insulin at home, what is my plan to tell my boss? Do I prefer to keep that information to myself and tell them that I don’t feel well, so I can get home to get my insulin? Do I ask to leave to retrieve it or go and work from home the rest of the day (if my job allows)?
- Am I staying hydrated throughout the day? Do I have water nearby?
- Have I shared high blood sugar warning signs with my trusted coworkers and let them know what I need when my blood sugar is high?
Blood sugar levels above 250 mg/dL are more severe.
Severe high blood sugar + diabetic ketoacidosis
Severe high blood sugars are a level above 250 mg/dL that also potentially come with ketones. The longer a high blood sugar goes untreated and the higher it rises, you are more likely to develop ketones, which could result in diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA).
When it comes to severe high blood sugar levels that can lead to life-threatening complications like DKA, ask yourself these questions:
- Have I shared the signs of extremely high blood sugar with my trusted coworkers?
- If I cannot help myself, do my trusted coworkers know when to give insulin and when to give glucagon?
- If I am unable to help myself, is my emergency contact updated?
- If I use an insulin pump and it fails at work, and I don’t have other supplies, what is my plan to get home and retrieve my medication?
- Do I have backup pump site supplies at work for pump-site failures?
- Have I shared what blood sugar range is severely high for me with my trusted colleagues, and do they know how to scan my continuous glucose monitor (CGM) or use my blood glucose meter (BGM) to test my blood sugar?
- If I share my CGM data with two people close to me who will be alerted if I experience a diabetes emergency at work, what do I expect them to do? Have I informed them that they are my emergency contact(s)? How will they be able to help me in case of an emergency? Will limiting who I share my CGM data with be the most helpful to me in an emergency where I cannot help myself?
When diabetes technology fails
Diabetes technology failure is another potential emergency you may encounter at work.
As much as you can usually rely on your diabetes technology, sometimes it still fails for various reasons. Don’t hesitate to address the situation if you ever experience CGM, BGM, insulin pump, or insulin site failure at work.
Here are some questions to ask yourself that can help you plan for diabetes tech failure:
- Am I able to keep one set of backup supplies at work? If not, what is my plan to retrieve my supplies if it fails at work?
- If I use a CGM, am I comfortable keeping a BGM as a backup at work?
- If I use an insulin pump, can I keep an insulin pen or some syringes and an insulin vial safely stored at work as a backup?
- If I have no other resources, what is my plan to get home, and can I do it safely? Will I need someone else to drive me?
- Am I comfortable being transparent with my boss if I need to go home to retrieve my supplies, or will I tell them I feel sick and need to leave?
When it comes to diabetes technology, taking action quickly with backup supplies is a must!
The bottom line: your health matters most
Never let your diabetes go untreated, and don’t try to drive yourself home if you are severely high or low. You can put yourself and others at risk.
When it comes to communicating about diabetes emergencies at work, it is up to you how much you share and with whom. Make a plan of who you trust with information on your diabetes and how you manage it at work—including what you need in the case of severe high or low blood sugar. (If you have a CGM, consider sharing your device’s data with people you trust.)
While you may be an independent diabetes manager, it’s always good to know you have people watching out for you. You are not an inconvenience for including them in your preparedness plans at work. If anything, you are helping everyone (especially yourself) feel more comfortable and confident as a team!
You never know—sharing your diabetes with your coworkers may lead you to discover another coworker also has diabetes!
Educational content related to communicating about diabetes emergencies at work is made possible with support from Lilly, an active partner of Beyond Type 2 at the time of publication. Editorial control rests solely on Beyond Type 2.