Ah... Ah... Choo!
Every year we cross our fingers, hoping we’ll be spared. The common cold and influenza have a nasty reputation and with good reason. Who can stand a runny nose or a hacking cough?
Both infections are common and relatively harmless, but they still have to be closely monitored in people living with diabetes.
A few facts
Colds and influenza are viral infections affecting the respiratory tract. The common cold is relatively mundane and is generally over in ten days. The flu is more serious, characterized by fever, coughing, headaches, and other symptoms, which can last for two to three weeks.
Diabetics should keep in mind the following:
• When we get sick, we sometimes tend to eat less and assume that our blood sugar will be low… but this isn’t necessarily the case. The body reacts to cold and flu infection by producing higher levels of stress hormones to fight it off, which actually increases blood sugar.
• Some cold and flu remedies, such as decongestants, also raise blood sugar.
• Diabetics are three times as likely as the general population to have complications arising from a cold or flu, such as bronchitis or pneumonia.
How do I stop it before it starts?
Sometimes, you just can’t avoid that handshake, hug or kiss, and you certainly have no control over other people’s coughing. Having said this, you can still take basic precautions to limit the risk of catching a cold or flu:
• Surprise, surprise: regular handwashing can do a world of good.
• Refraining from touching your eyes, nose and mouth. This prevents the spread of germs.
• There’s no better way to stay healthy than eating a proper diet and getting proper exercise.
• Ask your doctor or pharmacist how you should handle your cold or flu and whether you should change your usual treatment.
• Most importantly, get your seasonal flu vaccination. The vaccine is recommended for everyone, but especially for diabetics and other people at risk of developing complications.
How do I get better again?
Even if you take every precaution in the book, you may still catch a cold or flu.
• You still need to take your diabetes medication and/or your insulin if you are ill, even if you eat less and your blood sugar looks like it’s under control.
• Check your blood sugar every two to four hours. Because colds and influenza tend to increase blood sugar, this precaution is especially important if you require insulin injections.
• Keep up your fluids and make sure they are unsweetened.
• Remember that excessive blood sugar can cause weight loss.
• Take your temperature regularly and watch for signs of complications: see a healthcare professional quickly if your condition worsens.
• If you cannot eat solid foods, you could have drinks containing glucose instead. Check with your pharmacist first.
• Be careful with over-the-counter, sugar-free or natural remedies. Certain active ingredients can increase your blood sugar or blood pressure. Your pharmacist will be able to advise you about this.
Oftentimes a nasty cold or a bout with the flu will finish just as suddenly as it began. Even so, better safe than sorry… but if you do catch an infection, listen to your body, monitor your symptoms, and above all take care of yourself!
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Protect Yourself from Influenza (The Flu)”: https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/news/docs/flu_protect.htm. Accessed April 2, 2014.
Diabetes Québec, “Le rhume et la grippe”: http://www.diabete.qc.ca/fr/comprendre-le-diabete/pratique/situations-particulieres/rhume-grippe-et-autres-infections. Accessed April 2, 2014.
Canadian Diabetes Care Guide, “Treating the Common Cold and Type 2 Diabetes”: http://www.diabetescareguide.com/treating-common-cold-type-2-diabetes/. Accessed April 2, 2014.
Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, “Living With Diabetes”: http://health.gov.on.ca/en/public/programs/diabetes/channel.aspx. Accessed April 2, 2014.