Q: Recently we were having some “mystery highs” until we figured out with the help of our diabetes educator that the hand soap we were using before blood sugar checks has sugar in it! Is there anything else we should be aware of that can throw meter checks off?

A: One of the nice things about most modern glucose meters is that they require only a very small blood sample to work. This convenience, however, does tend to make it easier for skin contaminants to affect readings and cause meter errors. As it appears you have already discovered, even a microscopic amount of glucose on the skin can significantly affect blood glucose testing results.

The most effective way to remove contaminants is to simply wash hands thoroughly using a basic hand or bar soap. Hand washing is especially important if your child has recently eaten or drunk something that contains certain types of sugar. This includes fruits such as bananas or oranges. After soaping up, rinse with water and be sure to dry hands well, because extra water left on the skin can also mix with the blood sample and affect meter readings.

Other issues that can affect the accuracy of blood sugar checks include using expired test strips or strips exposed to excessive heat or moisture. If the drop of blood applied to the strip is too small, this too may cause the meter to give an inaccurate reading or produce an error message. If this is the case, don’t try to add more blood to the same strip once the first drop has been applied. Begin again with a new strip. If you start using a new bottle of strips, most meters require you to enter the bottle’s testing code. If the wrong code is accidentally entered, this can also affect results.

One last tip: Whenever you feel that your child’s readings may not be accurate, wash and dry your child’s hands, load a new strip, and repeat the test to see if you get similar results on the second check. If these kinds of uneven testing results persist, contact your care team for help troubleshooting the problem.

 –David Nickels, M.D., is the director of pediatric endocrinology at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital in Knoxville.



How Other Parents Deal
“As our son has gotten older and taken on more of his own blood sugar checks, our big issue is not whether he forgets to do them, but whether or not he remembers to wash his hands! To help make it as easy as possible for him, his diabetes kit has a hotel-size bar of soap — just in case there’s no soap where he is. Making this pre-check cleaning as easy as possible for him seems to be working.”
–Rebecca L., Melrose, Mass., mom of 12-year-old Oliver


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Disclaimer: The information in these articles is not intended as medical advice. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding individual care.