An Unexpected Road Hazard
One morning Erma Marshall was in such a hurry that she was unable to eat breakfast. When she was behind the wheel of her car later that day, she began sweating and feeling faint. As her condition deteriorated, her vision became so blurry that she could not see her cell phone to call for help. With great difficulty, she was finally able to pull over to the side of the road safely. Had she been drugged or struck by some weird virus? No, Marshall is one of 26 million Americans who have Type 2 diabetes. Her symptoms were both predictable and, in her circumstance, unavoidable. Fortunately they did not result in a fatal crash, though her driving abilities were so impaired that they easily could have. The cure was not the administration of a miracle drug. Instead, Marshall ate crackers and drank juice to bring her blood sugar back up to the proper level.
For Marshall, who was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 1990, the experience was a wake-up call, and she shared her story with others to help educate them about the potential dangers of low blood sugar and what can be done to help prevent it from occurring. What even longtime diabetics might not know is that traveling can interfere with blood sugar management and lead to low blood sugar levels, which can cause serious complications -- like loss of consciousness -- if not treated quickly. Of course, loss of consciousness while driving can have deadly consequences. According to a recent survey conducted by the American College of Endocrinology (ACE), 37 percent of people with Type 2 diabetes have experienced low blood sugar when driving or traveling.
While many diabetes patients recognize the importance of controlling high blood sugar, they may not know the risks of extremely low blood sugar. Six percent of people with Type 2 diabetes have had to go to the emergency room at some point as a result of low blood sugar. Even when the reaction is not that extreme, more than half (55 percent) of patients with Type 2 diabetes have experienced an episode of low blood sugar. The most commonly experienced symptoms are shakiness (91 percent), sweating (76 percent) and dizziness (75 percent). About 1 in 5 (21 percent) have needed assistance from others -- not good if you are alone driving a car.
What can you do to avoid the possibly dangerous effects of low blood sugar? ACE suggests packing more snacks, drinks and blood sugar testing supplies than you think you will need, so that you are prepared in the event of travel delays. If you are taking a long car trip, test your blood sugar before leaving. If it is 70 mg/dL or below, eat or drink something that will raise it quickly, and wait until your blood sugar is back to normal before getting behind the wheel.
While traveling, research nearby restaurants and grocery stores so you know your healthy options for meals and snacks.
If you have Type 2 diabetes, you are aware that you have to take and keep control of your blood sugar level. The important thing to remember is that this is more critical than ever when you are driving a car.
Luigi Fraschini is a Driving Today contributing editor based in Cleveland. He writes frequently about auto safety and safety-related issues.