Diabetes and Colds

Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on June 17, 2020

Colds aren't fun for anyone, but if you have diabetes, all that sniffling and sneezing comes with an extra risk. When you're sick, there's a chance your blood sugar levels could go up. Some smart strategies can get you back on track.

Why Is My Blood Sugar Going Up?

When you have a cold, your body sends out hormones to fight the infection. The downside: That makes it hard for you to use insulin properly, and your blood sugar levels may rise.

If you have type 1 diabetes and your blood sugar levels get hard to manage, it can lead to problems like ketoacidosis. That's a buildup of too much acid in your blood and it's potentially life-threatening.

If you have type 2 diabetes, especially if you're older, very high blood sugar can bring on a serious condition called diabetic coma.

How Often Should I Check My Blood Sugar?

Check it at least every 3 or 4 hours when you're sick with a cold. If your levels aren't near your target, you can tweak your diabetes management plan -- your doctor may tell you to use more insulin if your blood sugar levels are too high.

What Should I Eat and Drink?

You may not feel hungry when you first get sick, but it's important to try to eat something anyway. You can have foods from your regular meal plan.

The American Diabetes Association recommends you try to eat something with about 15 grams of carbohydrates every hour or so. Some foods to try:

  • 3-ounce fruit juice bar
  • 1/2 cup frozen yogurt
  • 1/2 cup cooked cereal

If you don't eat, your blood sugar might fall too low.

If you have a fever, vomiting, or diarrhea, drink a cup of fluid each hour. You can sip the liquid if you want -- no need to gulp it down all at once. The important thing is to avoid getting dehydrated.

If your blood sugar is too high, sip liquids like water or sugar-free ginger ale. If it's too low, sip half a cup of apple juice or 1/2 cup of ginger ale. Always check what you eat or drink against your regular diabetes diet to make sure these foods and drinks are allowed in your situation.

What Cold Medications Can I Take?

You can take some over-the-counter cold drugs, but avoid products that are high in sugar. Some examples are cough drops or liquid medicines. Read the ingredients label carefully. Talk to your doctor if in doubt.

If you have high blood pressure, avoid any cold medicine that contains decongestants, which can raise it even more.

How Can I Avoid Colds?

Make sure you and your family members wash your hands regularly. There's no vaccine against colds, but talk to your doctor about getting a flu shot every year.

WebMD Medical Reference


American Diabetes Association: "Surviving Sick Days" and "When You're Sick."

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