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How I Keep My Diabetes Under Control When I Have a Cold

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Ilene Raymond Rush - Blogs
By Ilene Raymond RushAward-winning health and science writerFebruary 07, 2020

My friend’s grandchild recently arrived for a week-long visit – along with his head cold, which he proceeded to share with everyone who came in contact with him.  

While his grandmother and grandfather ended up with the worst of it – two bad sinus infections – a few days after our meeting, I sensed a tickle in my throat, stuffiness in my nose, and the general discomfort that signaled a seasonal cold.

Within days, I found myself in bed wrapped in two blankets, sniffling into tissues, and clutching hot herbal tea.

If you’ve ever had the flu or a cold, you know how miserable it can be. And, if you have type 2 diabetes, these seasonal woes can be even more difficult. The stress of inflammation on the immune system can send sugars higher, while an upset stomach and inability to hold down foods can lead to lows.

Of course, the best strategy is to avoid getting sick in the first place. Everyone with diabetes should make it a priority to get an annual flu shot, and, if necessary, a shot for pneumonia.

Yet, life and germy babies happen. If you manage to pick up a cold or flu despite your precautions, here are a few tips I use to help cope with sickness without throwing my diabetes out of whack:

Anticipate higher sugars. Without my daily exercise, and with the additional stress of my cold, my blood glucose levels immediately shot up above my normal levels. When this used to happen, it really worried me, but now I know that unless they go really high twice in a row (say 250 or over), I try not to stress. If they do reach those heights, I call my doctor.

Watch out for extra sugar. Although I’ve read that a little sugar found in medications like cough syrups and cough drops aren’t terrible while you’re sick even if you have diabetes, if my sugars are rising, I stick to sugar-free versions.

Check my blood glucose levels every two to four hours. While I usually take my sugars twice a day, when I’m sick, I test more often to get a better handle on what’s happening. It’s important to check for both highs and lows – since sometimes the symptoms of a cold or the flu can feel like low or mask the sensations of a true low.

Keep drinking. Staying hydrated, particularly if you can’t seem to keep anything down, can be a chore. Sugarless popsicles, broth, tea, or plain water can help.

Eat something. When you’re stuffy or nursing an upset stomach, food can be the last thing on your mind. But if you’re taking diabetes medications (or even if you aren’t), you should have a little carbohydrate to keep up your strength and prevent your blood glucose from dropping too low. I rely on crackers, a little brown rice, dry toast, yogurt, or even a little gelato.

Taking care of yourself when you have a cold or flu is important, but when you have diabetes it’s a necessity. Rather than fight it, my best advice is to give in and ‘baby’ yourself for a few days until you’re back to your healthy self.

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About the Author
Ilene Raymond Rush

Ilene Raymond Rush is an award winning health and science freelance writer. Based on her own experiences with type 2 diabetes, she brings a personal take and a reporter’s eye to examine the best and newest methods of treating and controlling the disease.

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