Health Care

Type 1 Diabetes | Cold and Flu Season

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A woman drinking tea under a blanket at home.

Catching a cold or coming down with the flu is no fun, but when you have type 1 diabetes, it can be even worse. When you have a cold, your body sends hormones to fight the infection. But that response makes it hard for your body to use insulin properly, and your blood sugar levels may rise.

Below are some key factors to consider when choosing your cold and flu medications.

  • Over-the-counter medications affect blood glucose levels. Though there are some sugar-free cough syrups on the market, many such types of syrup contain sugar, which only exacerbates high blood glucose levels.
  • People with diabetes should avoid taking products that contain phenylephrine and pseudoephedrine. These decongestants can raise blood sugar levels.
  • Pills taken orally with the same active ingredients as syrups can be a better choice if they contain no carbohydrates.
  • Other drugs like decongestants also raise blood glucose.
  • Be aware of the effects of pain and fever reducers, too. Aspirin in large doses can lower blood glucose levels. Acetaminophen can cause false or no readings in CMGs and can be toxic to the liver and kidneys. Ibuprofen should also be handled with care as it increases the hypoglycemic effect of insulin.

Preventing Illness
Most of us will end up suffering from the cold or flu at some point. But there are some things you can do to help prevent it. First, make sure you and your family members wash your hands regularly. Although there’s no vaccine against colds, the CDC recommends that everyone age six months and older get the flu shot every year. That’s even more important for people with type 1 diabetes. And even though we are in the middle of flu season, it’s not too late to get your flu shot.

It’s also an excellent time to ask your doctor if you need the pneumonia shot. This vaccine can also help protect you from blood infections and meningitis. But unfortunately, according to the American Diabetes Association, only one out of every three people with diabetes ever gets this shot. Yet people with diabetes are about three times more likely to die from flu and pneumonia.

When to call your doctor?
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 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.

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

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