Managing Type 1 Diabetes and College

Happy 2017 and welcome to our first post of the year! This post comes from Emma Wright from Cork and a university student in her twenties. When Emma was 11 years old, she developed Pancreatitis, a condition that is rare in children, and as a direct result, she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of fourteen.

Emma travelled to Australia, as many Irish do, on the work/travel visa in recent years and started a blog about her travelling with type 1 diabetes to help and support other people living with type 1 that may be considering doing the same.

You will find out more about Emma and her travels here.

I asked Emma to write about managing type 1 diabetes while in college. This is something that is a huge challenge for students with diabetes, as it’s usually the first time that you are out on your own as an independent adult navigating the world. Emma has some really good tips here that really help her managing life in college.

Thank you Emma for contributing to Thriveabetes as a guest blogger; you can follow Emma on Emma Wright's Blog.

We are always looking for stories from the Irish Diabetes community to share and if you would like to share your story with Thriveabetes, email me, Gráinne at


Managing Diabetes in CollegeEmma Wright

Starting college is an exciting and rewarding experience. Not only are you taking the first steps towards your career but you are also becoming independent for the first time. Independence for most means being able to go out when you want and learning to be smarter with your money but as a person with diabetes, independence also means having to rely on yourself for your diabetes management. This can be tough, especially if you are used to having family members around who remind you to check your sugar levels, help you when you are having a hypo and who are generally there for support.

Being in college, you are instantly exposed to new people and new surroundings and you don’t necessarily want to be dragged down by the thought of having to check yourself or inject/pump in public. But as great as college is, the most important thing is to look after yourself so you can enjoy college to the fullest. What good is it to be battling low or high sugar levels on a night out or at a societies event? None is the answer! You want to be able to have fun and enjoy your time in college without the added worry of uncontrolled sugar levels.

So as a college student myself, I have included my top tips for managing diabetes in college:

1. If you are living away from home, you NEED to tell everyone in your house/apartment that you have diabetes. You would be surprised how a lot of students you live with might accidently drink the Lucozade you have in the fridge, leaving you with nothing to treat a hypo! I understand it might be daunting, and maybe even embarrassing, to tell everyone you have just met that you have diabetes but believe me, it might save your life. As well, you should explain what the Glycogen Kit is and when it needs to be used, just in case you are ever in a situation where you are unresponsive and may need it to be administered. Quite often, these housemates will also turn into friends who will be able to keep an eye on you when you aren’t feeling great with sugar levels. But just in case, I would always recommend having hypo treatment in your room and in your college bag at all times too.

2. Remember to test. Yes, it is so simple but it can be so hard to remember when you have classes back to back for hours at a time and diabetes is the last thing on your mind. It’s easy to get hungry and tired, and all you want to do is eat without having to finger prick and just give insulin for the carbs you have eaten but it is crucial to know what your sugar levels are before food in case you need to give a correction with your dose. I would suggest setting an alarm on your meter or phone for particularly busy college days - it will come in handy, trust me!

3. Eat as best as you can! It can be tough to eat healthily on a budget (and with loads of student meal deals on offer) but you can do it! Going to supermarkets for your food shop is a must, particularly the cheaper ones, so that you get more for your money. Also look at the reduced section for cheaper food that might be close to its use by date, it is still just as good if you eat it on the day you buy it or if you freeze it. I would also suggest when cooking, to make extra and freeze it, for those days where you don’t feel like cooking – you can just pop it in the oven or microwave! I often weigh out the carbs as I divide it into lunchboxes and put it on a label on the lunchbox so when I go to eat it, I already know how much to bolus for.

4. Stay connected. By this, I mean always stay connected to your loved ones and your diabetes care team! It can be easy to get caught up in college life and forget to give a text to your family or give a call to your diabetes team when you need some help and guidance on your diabetes. Always keep up to date with all hospital appointments. It may be a nuisance to get to your appointment but it’s better to do that than miss out on the opportunity to have your eyes checked, for example. You don’t want to delay treatment for any complications you may have!

5. Stress effects sugar levels and coming up to exam time, you may find you have not got enough hours in the day to complete essays and study. This will be stressful! Just be mindful of your sugar levels during these times and give yourself some more insulin if needed (if on a pump, you can do a temporary basal rate at an increased rate). You should also try and exercise regularly during your college terms but particularly during these times of stress, it will be a great reliever of tension, will help you to relax and sleep better as well as help lower insulin resistance.

Once you have followed these tips, you will find your rhythm in college and diabetes won’t be such a struggle to manage. Like everything, practise makes perfect and just try your best to keep your sugar levels stable. I would also recommend registering with the Disability department in your college and make them aware of your diabetes. It isn’t essential to tell lecturers of big classes that you have diabetes, mainly because you can drink/eat in classes and do as you please, as long as you are quiet! But if you have smaller classes, then I would recommend letting your teacher know about your diabetes just in case you have to treat a hypo or hyper sugar level during class time.

I hope this helps you for your time in college! Best of luck in your studies and remember to have fun!