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Diabetes and Colds

If you have diabetes, catching colds can make your condition worse. Not only must you deal with miserable cold symptoms, but the cold virus creates additional stress on your body. When you have diabetes, this added stress can cause your blood sugars to rise. Here's what you must know to stay well with diabetes and colds.

Why Do Colds Cause Blood Sugar to Rise in Those With Diabetes?

When you get sick with a cold, there's the chance that your blood sugar levels will rise. This happens when your body sends out hormones to fight the viral infection. While the hormones may help battle the cold, they also make it hard for your body to use insulin properly.

When your blood sugar levels become hard to manage with a cold or other illness, you can have problems such as ketoacidosis if you have type 1 diabetes. Ketoacidosis is a buildup of too much acid in your blood and is potentially life-threatening. If you have type 2 diabetes, especially if you are older, you can develop a serious condition called hyperosmolar hyperglycemic nonketotic coma, also called diabetic coma. This problem is caused by very high blood sugars.

How Often Should I Check my Blood Sugar When I Have a Cold?

Check your blood sugar levels at least every three or four hours when you have a cold. Your doctor or diabetes educator may tell you to use more insulin if your blood sugar levels are too high.

Knowing your blood sugar levels allows you to alter your diabetes management strategy if your levels aren't near your target blood sugar level.

What Should I Eat if I Have Diabetes and a Cold?

If you have diabetes, you may not feel hungry when you first get cold symptoms. But it's important to try to eat something anyway. You can select foods from your regular meal plan.

The American Diabetes Association recommends trying to eat a food with about 15 grams of carbohydrates every hour or so. You might eat a 3-ounce fruit juice bar, ½ cup frozen yogurt, or ½ cup cooked cereal. If you don't eat, your blood sugar might actually fall too low.

If you have a fever, vomiting, or diarrhea, be sure to drink a cup of fluid each hour. You can sip the liquid instead of drinking it all at once, but you want to avoid becoming dehydrated.

If your blood sugar is too high, sip liquids such as water or sugar-free ginger ale. If you need to raise your blood sugar, sip ½ cup apple juice or ½ cup ginger ale. Always check what you eat or drink against your regular diabetes diet to make sure these foods and liquids are allowed in your situation.

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