HSfB Blog

Diabetics in the Workplace - Hypos

Diabetics in the Workplace – Hypos (Kindly submitted by one of our knowledgeable members - jonsi)

Around 4.5% of the UK workforce have Diabetes (either Type 1 or Type 2) – that's around 1.3 million people.

Diabetes is a chronic condition – that means it's there for the long term and it affects their life. It can't (yet) be cured, it never goes away, even if the sufferer isn't taking medication and it can, when it's got a mind to, be a horrible, nasty, sneaky, mean condition that can affect the sufferer's life in many different ways.

The most obvious concern in a workplace is: Are people with Diabetes more 'at risk' at work than everyone else?

A Diabetic with good control of their condition poses no greater or lesser risk than anyone else but Diabetes doesn't play fair. Simple things like a cold or a stomach upset can wreak havoc on previously good control. A simple cut can quickly turn into something quite dangerous if things aren't dealt with properly.

Sometimes, circumstances affect the Diabetic's control – a missed meal perhaps, getting to their meal later than usual or eating the 'wrong' thing (nothing prevents a Diabetic from eating a chocolate bar for lunch but it's not as good for them as a balanced meal).

A common worry about Diabetics in the workplace is that they're likely to suddenly collapse and cause themselves (or others) significant harm. It's a genuine concern but one that isn't as likely to happen as you'd think.

The most common diabetic 'problem' at work is when they have a 'Hypo' (Hypoglycaemic incident – when the body has an abnormally low level of blood sugars). This can be as a result of too much insulin or, more commonly, they need to eat to get enough sugars to feed the brain.

First signs of a Hypo aren't usually visible to an onlooker but the Diabetic themselves will know however, they may not be able to tell you. They get:

  • blurred vision or maybe seeing a halo around things
  • Tingling of the lips, fingers or an odd taste in the mouth
  • Feeling uneasy or anxious
  • Confused with familiar everyday things
  • Feeling very hungry maybe a bit nauseous
  • Dizziness

Then the obvious external signs:

  • Slurred speech, almost like they're drunk
  • Becoming irritable, maybe argumentative, sometimes aggressive or just as likely to burst into tears
  • they feel cold but are sweating with a distinct pallor
  • Tremors, particularly in the hands

So what do you do to help if one of your colleagues has a Hypo?

  • Move them out of harm's way to somewhere safe
  • Reassure them. They may not be able to explain what is happening so let them know that everything is alright
  • Sit them down (sitting on the floor is perfectly OK, at least they can't fall any further!)
  • Above all don't panic. You probably won't need to call an ambulance to deal with it
  • If there are onlookers either get them doing something to help or send them away. The Diabetic feels bad enough without becoming the 'entertainment'

To overcome the Hypo, Diabetics need to raise their blood sugar levels. The simplest way is for them to eat or drink something – but what?

  • Drink Milk or,
  • a non-Diet drink like Cola (a drink with sweetener won't do. It needs to have the sugar in it)
  • Eat a biscuit or a chocolate bar but don't overdo it. Too much sugar in a short period can make the situation worse

Then, when they feel a bit better, get them to eat some proper food:

  • Normal foods (but not too large a portion)
  • Bananas

However, sometimes they may not have sufficient level of consciousness to be able to eat or drink. In those instances you have to get the sugars into their blood.

The simplest way to do this is to use:

  • Jam, Marmalade,
  • Syrup, honey or anything similar
  • Manufactured gels like HypoStop or GlucoGel

Smear this onto the patient's gums. Sugars will be rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream so the patient will start to recover fairly quickly.

Be prepared when they come round, they may still be:

  • Confused, upset, possibly sleepy
  • Argumentative, even fighting (they will be incredibly strong because of other hormones released by the body)

If you have a Diabetic colleague

  • Talk to them about their condition
  • Learn the symptoms of a Hypo
  • Know what to do in the event of a Hypo
  • Know where the supplies are