Got a Cold or Flu, Plus Diabetes?

Colds and flu are no fun, and they can be even worse if you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Infections, dehydration, and sugar in some medicines can make it harder to manage your blood sugar.

You can take steps to help prevent those problems and stay well.

Your best move is to get a flu shot every year. The CDC recommends that for everyone age 6 months and older, so if you have a child with diabetes, make sure that they get vaccinated, too.

A flu vaccine can prevent many types of flu or keep flu viruses from making you so ill. September may be the best month to get this vaccine because it protects you for about 6 months. But you can get a flu shot at any time during flu season.

Also, ask your doctor if you need the pneumonia shot. This vaccine can also help protect you from blood infections and meningitis.

What You Should Know About Cold and Flu Medicines

The main problem for people with diabetes is that some cold and flu drugs, such as cough syrups, have sugar in them. Ask your doctor or pharmacist to recommend over-the-counter drugs that are safe for you. Keep those product names handy for future reference.

Don’t give cold and flu medicines to a child younger than 2, whether they have diabetes or not, because of the risk of serious side effects.

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Make a Plan for Sick Days

Everyone gets a cold or flu sometime. Your doctor, nurse, or diabetes educator can help you prepare. They'll probably recommend that you do the following in addition to regular things like staying home from work, school, or day care if you’re too sick to go.

Check your blood sugar levels every 4 hours, or as often as recommended by your doctor.

Test for ketones if your blood sugar level is over 240 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). Call your doctor if it shows any ketones.

Take your temperature regularly.

Drink one cup of liquid every hour you're awake. Water and broth are good choices.

Try to eat 35-50 grams of carbohydrates every 3 to 4 hours. If you can't eat solid food, try clear soup, regular soft drinks, Popsicles, unsweetened applesauce, apple juice, or sports drinks.

Keep taking insulin or other diabetes medications unless your doctor tells you not to.

When to Call Your Doctor

If you or your child has diabetes as well as what you think might be the flu, call your doctor right away so you can start treatment to help prevent serious complications.

For adults, call your doctor if your symptoms are really bad, have lasted for a few days, or if you’ve had a fever that won’t let up. You should also call if:

  • It’s hard to breathe.
  • Your blood sugar level remains higher than 180 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).
  • Your blood sugar level remains lower than 70 mg/dL.
  • You cannot keep down solids or liquids.
  • Your temperature is over 101 F.
  • You have vomiting or diarrhea.

For children, call the doctor if they have:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Blue lips
  • Won’t eat or drink
  • Ear pain
  • A fever of 102 F or higher (or any temperature if it’s a baby age 2 months or younger)
  • A lot more crankiness or sleepiness than usual
  • Worsening symptoms
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD on May 07, 2019

Sources

American Diabetes Association: "Flu & Pneumonia Shots." and “When You’re Sick.”

FDA: “Have a Baby or Young Child With a Cold? Most Don’t Need Medicines.”

CDC: “Flu and People With Diabetes.”

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