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Shortly after your diagnosis, you likely received a variety of pamphlets for medical alert jewelry to wear on your wrist or your neck, informing the world that you have type 1 diabetes. If you don’t wear one, you’ve probably been scolded a handful of times by your healthcare team (or by your parents or the counselors at Diabetes Camp)!
But just how useful is medical alert jewelry? Who’s going to see it and will it really help you in an emergency when you aren’t able to speak for yourself?
Let’s take a closer look at 8 truths about medical alert jewelry.
MYTH: An ICE bracelet is not the same as medical alert jewelry, and won’t help someone with diabetes.
FACT: An ICE bracelet cannot replace a medical alert, but it can still be helpful.
The basic difference between an “In Case of Emergency” bracelet and medical alert jewelry is the details of what each item conveys.
An ICE bracelet simply provides emergency contact information (like your partner or friend’s name and phone number) along with perhaps your address.
A medical alert is designed specifically for people with medical conditions or special needs or concerns that anyone helping you ought to be aware of when you are unable to help yourself or speak for yourself.
Medical alert jewelry vendor LaurensHope suggests that people with the following conditions should wear medical alert jewelry, rather than basic ICE:
- diabetes (type 1 or type 2)
- severe food, drug, or insect allergies
- epilepsy or seizures
- hypertension, a history of stroke, or other cardiac problems
- kidney disease
- visual or hearing impairment
- Alzheimer’s or memory impairment
- special needs
- chronic illness
They also suggest wearing medical alert jewelry if:
- You are a surgery, transplant, or cancer patient
- You use a pacemaker or other important piece of medical equipment
- You take certain medications, like blood thinners
MYTH: EMTs are so distracted, they often don’t take time to look for a medical alert ID.
FACT: EMTs are trained to first assess your airway, breath, and pulse — and then quickly look for other important signs.
“If you’re unconscious and there isn’t anyone to give a history, we look for a bracelet immediately after the ‘ABCs’ — airway, breathing, circulation,” explains Andrea Saric-Hayes, a licensed EMT (emergency medical technician) in the state of Vermont. But she says it depends on the level of trauma. “I would tend to look first for serious bleeding or a spinal issue before looking for medical alert jewelry.”
Even if your emergency had nothing to do with your diabetes, the medical ID bracelet will help the EMTs know they ought to check your blood sugar and monitor your diabetes in general until you’re conscious and able to manage on your own again.
“Especially when a patient is alone, any type of medical alert is extremely helpful!” adds Saric-Hayes. Without it, a car accident that knocks you unconscious could easily evolve to include severe high or low blood sugars, especially if the team responding to the emergency has no idea that you have diabetes.
MYTH: It doesn’t matter if your medical alert ID is a bracelet, necklace, or tattoo — EMTs will look everywhere.
FACT: EMTs will likely notice anything on your wrist first. Other locations could go unnoticed until much later.
“I’ll notice someone’s medical alert bracelet when I’m checking their pulse,” explains Saric-Hayes, “But necklaces are harder, regardless of how decorated they are, because we don’t check the chest area unless there is trauma or need to palpate.”
Ed Waite, also a licensed EMT in Vermont, agrees that bracelets are a much more effective approach than necklaces.
“Bracelets are usually much easier to find right off than necklaces, but in the end, any medical alert ID is a real help to the responders coming to your aid,” he says.
MYTH: EMTs generally won’t acknowledge a medical alert tattoo because it’s just art.
FACT: Tattoos can be effective, as long as they are easy to read and in the right location.
Waite says that he would definitely notice a medical alert tattoo as a seasoned EMT, but newer EMTs may not identify them as quickly.
But Saric-Hayes says that as these tattoos become more and more popular, spotting them will become more routine, and hopefully part of EMT basic training.
“Medical alert tattoos, especially for type 1 diabetes, are becoming very trendy. Even just a little cursive writing ‘type 1 diabetes’ on your wrist can stand out, sometimes more than jewelry. I try to notice tattoos like this because it’s also something I can use to build rapport with a patient if they are conscious but in pain and need a distraction,” she explains.
When you’re choosing a tattoo location, it is highly recommended to focus on your wrist.
“Fortunately, we always need to look at and touch a patient’s wrist regardless of the situation,” Waite says.
(If you’re living with T1D and thinking of getting a tattoo, remember that people with diabetes have an increased risk of developing infections. Talk to your healthcare team to determine if your overall health and blood sugar management are ready for the healing process of a tattoo.)
MYTH: To be effective, your jewelry or tattoo needs to be plain and boring.
FACT: Even a detailed design can work, as long as it’s easy for EMTs to read the “type 1 diabetes” text.
If you’d rather wear something with a more elegant, decorative design, you do not have to settle for a plain ol’ silver plaque on your wrist. But you should still think very carefully about the design you choose — and the design doesn’t have to be flashy!
It can be tempting to get a highly decorative medical alert bracelet or necklace or tattoo, but remember what the original goal of its design truly is: to inform people that you have type 1 diabetes when you cannot.
Especially artistic or creative jewelry or tattoo designs can easily be overlooked if the medical alert symbol or “type 1 diabetes” text isn’t easy to spot and read. It’s easy to add a great deal of detail to a tattoo design or a bracelet, but the wrist is a small spot for an important message — keep it simple.
That doesn’t mean you can’t choose a tattoo or jewelry that is elegant and beautiful, but you should make sure it’s still very easy to read the text “type 1 diabetes” regardless of the design around it.
MYTH: Design of medical alert jewelry is basically feminine.
FACT: Actually, there are some very masculine options, even for men who aren’t into the gold or silver look.
While the plaque that has “type 1 diabetes” engraved in is pretty standard, you can find a variety of leather-bound band versions or different colored metal plaques if the typical gold or silver is a bit too flashy for your taste.
Prefer camouflage? This camo option is very comfortable and could appeal to any gender!
Other companies offer bracelets and necklaces that look very similar to a watch or fitness tracker, with a slim band and subtle overall appearance.
MYTH: Med alert ID jewelry is not practical if you do a lot of sports.
FACT: There are great choices of Velcro and other bands designed specifically for athletics.
There actually are a lot of options made specially for athletes and kids who need something different than typical silver or metal.
The Medic Alert Foundation, for example, offers soft Velcro bands for kids — and even designs in hot pink or bright blue rubber-like material for younger kids.
For athletes, the last thing you want is a hard silver bracelet or necklace that might pinch or scrape something during a CrossFit workout or 100-mile bike ride! There are a lot of great options made with different materials for the athletic go-getter!
This bracelet from EPIC-ID even offers a very subtle latch design that truly eliminates the risk of pinching while still maintaining a very classy look!
At the end of the day, wearing a medical alert of some kind is pretty crucial for people with type 1 diabetes. It’s easy to dismiss or assume you’ll never need it, but you cannot predict a severe car accident or a severe hypoglycemia event. So respect the scout’s motto and be prepared!
MYTH: Insurance does not cover medical ID bracelets for people with diabetes.
FACT: Under certain circumstances, your medical ID may be reimbursable.
While this does depend largely on your insurance plan, you can start by asking your doctor for a prescription for a medical alert.
Once you have the prescription, you can talk to your insurance company about either using your FSA (flex spending account) to purchase the medical alert, or purchasing it with your personal finances and submitting the prescription and receipt to your insurance company to receive a reimbursement.
For the most effective and potentially lifesaving medical alert IDs: Keep them simple and wear them on your wrist.