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Weathering Cold & Flu Season with Diabetes

Avoiding common illnesses – and what to do if you get sick

During winter, nearly all of us are at risk for common illnesses like colds and the flu. “For people living with diabetes [either type 1 or type 2],” says Dr. Mariela Glandt, an endocrinologist at Bronx Lebanon Hospital, “these illnesses can make it more complicated to manage blood sugar levels.”

Despite the seasonal risk that exists, there are things you can do that may help you avoid colds and the flu. In the case of the flu, the CDC recommends people with diabetes get a flu shot each year. In addition, Dr. Zachary Bloomgarden, clinical professor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, suggests trying to maintain good glucose control, not smoking, and making sure you have a healthy diet.

Janis Roszler, MSFT, RD, CDE*, LD/N says, “To try and avoid getting a cold, get plenty of rest and try to keep your stress levels low. Wash your hands often or use hand sanitizers. When you wash your hands, rub them long enough to sing two verses of the Happy Birthday song (about twenty seconds) then rinse.”

Don’t get caught unprepared

Planning ahead is important so that if you do get sick, you may know better how to take care of yourself, and you’ll have access to necessary supplies. “Review your sick day care plan with your doctor before you become ill,” says Roszler. “Ask what symptoms should prompt you to call the doctor and how you should adjust your medication.”

Consider preparing a sick day kit to ensure you are not caught off guard by a cold or the flu.  Be sure to include plenty of “glucose strips, urine ketone strips, and a thermometer,” says Dr. Bloomgarden. Roszler recommends having foods handy that contain between ten and fifteen grams of carbohydrates, such as a sports drink (not sugar-free), saltines (six per serving), or fruit juice (one-half cup per serving). “You can eat or drink them throughout the day if you become ill,” she says.

When preparing your sick day kit, use caution when choosing over-the-counter medications, says Dr. Glandt. “Some medications like cough syrup may have added sugar, so taking them puts you at risk for elevated blood glucose levels. And some over-the-counter decongestants might contain pseudoephredrine or phenylephrine, stimulants that can increase blood pressure.”

What to do if you do get sick

If you do get a cold or flu, Dr. Bloomgarden says, “It’s important to maintain good blood glucose control, rest, and drink fluids.”

Roszler suggests the following:

  • Try to drink eight ounces of fluid every hour. Make bouillon or other sodium-containing beverages your drink of choice every third hour.
  • Check your blood glucose level every two to four hours for as long as your blood glucose level is high, or until your symptoms improve.
  • Eat or drink a total of 150 to 200 grams of carbohydrates throughout the day.
  • Choose soft foods or drink only liquids if that is all that you can tolerate.

Signs you should call the doctor

“If you have fever, and high blood glucose (upper 200s or higher) that doesn’t come down within four to six hours, you should visit or contact your doctor,” suggests Dr. Bloomgarden. Other things that may indicate you need to see a medical professional include having more than trace positive ketones and experiencing severe gastrointestinal discomfort or respiratory symptoms.

And don’t forget that when you aren’t feeling well, it’s always better to err on the side of caution and call the doctor.

Jessica Apple is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the online diabetes lifestyle magazine A Sweet Life. Her writing has appeared in many publications, including The Sunday New York Times Magazine, The Financial Times Magazine, The Southern Review, The Bellevue Literary Review, and Tablet Magazine. Apple is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor and interviewees, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.

*“Certified Diabetes Educator” and “CDE” are certification marks owned and registered by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (NCBDE). NCBDE is not affiliated in any way with Sanofi US. NCBDE does not sponsor or endorse any diabetes-related products or services.

© 2014 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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