Allergy Tips for People With Diabetes

Allergies don't affect blood sugar directly, but some medications may.

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on January 15, 2014
From the WebMD Archives

Aaachoooo! It's that time of year again: spring allergy season. For about 1 in 5 people, warm weather brings not only blooming flowers and trees but also the telltale symptoms of hay fever (seasonal allergies) -- sneezing, coughing, runny or stuffy nose, scratchy throat, and itchy eyes.

For those with type 2 diabetes, spring allergies don't directly affect blood sugar, but there are things you need to watch out for, says Gerald Bernstein, MD, FACP. He's the director of the Diabetes Management Program at the Friedman Diabetes Institute, Beth Israel Medical Center in New York.

For relief from itching, sneezing, and runny nose, you might reach for an over-the-counter (OTC) medication such as an antihistamine, which millions have used safely, Bernstein says.

"But when you're throwing something like issues around blood sugar into the mix, you need to be a little more aware of the potential things that can occur."

One in five people who use antihistamines become drowsy, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA). "So if you take a nap and miss a meal, you can wake up with low blood sugar," Bernstein says. Look for newer antihistamines with less of a sedative effect or talk with a pharmacist about the side effects of various medications.

To unclog a stuffy nose, you might choose an OTC or prescription nasal spray, but you might not know that some contain steroids. "Steroids stimulate the liver to make more glucose [blood sugar], so now your liver is beginning to make more sugar," Bernstein says. "And if you're not aware of this, you might be surprised and ask, ‘Why are my numbers high?'"

Ask your doctor or pharmacist about nasal sprays without steroids. You have two choices: an OTC decongestant nasal spray or an OTC antihistamine nasal spray. If you choose the decongestant spray, don't use it for more than 3 days, cautions the AAFA. It may make congestion worse, even after you stop using it.

To relieve a dry, scratchy throat or a cough, check the label and choose a sugar-free brand.

Fend Off Your Allergy Triggers

The best way to beat spring allergies is to avoid the "triggers" that cause them. Try these tips:

Get squeaky clean. Shower after spending time outdoors to remove pollen from your hair and body.

Keep pollen out. Close home and car windows. Use an air filter or air conditioner to filter out allergens.

Put your rain boots on. Go for a walk or exercise outdoors on cool, damp, or rainy days, when pollen is more likely to be washed to the ground.

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Show Sources


CDC NIOSH Program Portfolio: "Immune, Dermal, and Infectious Diseases."

UpToDate:  "Patient Information: Allergic Rhinitis."

Gerald Bernstein, MD, FACP, director, Diabetes Management Program, Friedman Diabetes Institute, Beth Israel Medical Cente, New York, N.Y.

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America: "Over-the-Counter Medications."

American Diabetes Association: "Living with Diabetes: Ask the Pharmacist."  

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America: "Immunotherapy.".

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases: "Pollen Allergy."

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: "Immunotherapy Can Provide Lasting Relief."

NIH: Medline Plus: "Finding Relief from Allergy's Grip."

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America:  "Allergy Overview."

NIH: Medline Plus: "Allergies, Asthma, and Pollen."

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: "Saline Sinus Rinse Recipe."  

UpToDate: "Patient Information: Trigger Avoidance in Allergic Rhinitis."

Centers for Disease Control: "Fast Facts: Allergies and Hay Fever."

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