What to Know if You Have Diabetes and the Flu

When you have diabetes, do your best to avoid getting the flu, or influenza. Everyone has a chance of catching this viral infection, but people with diabetes have a harder time fighting it off. The flu can put added stress in your body, which can affect your blood sugar levels and raise the chance of serious health complications.

What Are Symptoms of the Flu?

They usually come on quickly and may include:

For in-depth information, see Flu Symptoms: What You Might Feel.

Which Medications Are Safe?

You can take some over-the-counter medications to ease your symptoms. But make sure you read the label. Avoid products with high amounts of sugar. This often includes liquid cold and flu drugs, cough drops, and liquid cough medicines. Look for sugar-free products instead.

For in-depth information, see Flu Treatment: The Basics.

How Often Should I Check my Blood Sugar?

You'll need to check often while you’re sick. Because you're ill and feel awful anyway, you may not notice changes in your blood sugar levels.

Take a reading at least every 3 to 4 hours. Call your doctor about any major changes right away. You may need to adjust your insulin.

Check your ketones, if you have type 1 diabetes. If they get too high, you might have diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), which can cause a coma or even death. High ketones are another reason to call your doctor.

What Can I Eat?

You may feel really crummy and not hungry or thirsty at all. Still, you have to eat to keep your blood sugar levels steady.

Stick with foods from your regular meal plan. Eat about 15 grams of carbs every hour or so, like a slice of toast, 3/4 cup of frozen yogurt, or 1 cup of soup.

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How Do I Stay Hydrated?

Some people get nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea with the flu. To make sure you get enough fluids, sip liquids throughout the day. Aim for 1 cup every hour.

Choose sugar-free drinks -- tea, water, sugar-free ginger ale -- if your blood sugar is running high.

If your blood sugar is low, try something that has about 15 grams of carbs: 1/4 cup of grape juice or 1 cup of a sports drink, for example.

How Can I Avoid the Flu?

Because you have diabetes, you have a higher risk for complications. Your best strategy is to keep the flu away in the first place. Get a yearly shot or nasal vaccine. The best time for people with diabetes to get vaccinated is September.

Ask family members, co-workers, and close friends to get the vaccine, too. You're less likely to get flu if those around you don't have it.

Keep your hands clean. Frequent and thorough hand washing is the best way to avoid getting sick from germs.

For in-depth information, see Flu Prevention Strategies.

What Else Can I Do to Stay Well?

If you haven't gotten a pneumonia shot yet, talk to your doctor. According to the ADA, only 1 out of every 3 people with diabetes ever gets this shot. Yet people with diabetes are about three times more likely to die from flu and pneumonia.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD on January 09, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

American Diabetes Association: "Flu & Pneumonia Shots" and "Surviving Sick Days."

Centers for Disease Control: "Key Facts About Seasonal Influenza (Flu)."

FDA: "Influenza Virus Vaccine" and "Study: Half of people at high risk unaware they need a flu shot."

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