How To Prepare for Cold and Flu If You Have Diabetes
As the cold and flu season gets into full swing, it's important for everyone to do what they can to prevent and, when necessary, effectively treat these infections. If you have diabetes, it is especially important to know how to prepare for cold and flu, as having this disease can make you more susceptible to health complications.
Get ready to fight viruses
Arm yourself for a fight against the viruses that cause cold and flu. Jennifer Collins, MD, who practices allergy and immunology in New York City, advises people with diabetes to consume 500 mg of vitamin C daily, wash your hands often and for at least 20 seconds, sneeze or cough into your elbow (and not your hand), get a sufficient amount of sleep and exercise, and "make it a priority to get vaccinated for influenza before the flu season starts in February."
Both the common cold and the flu (influenza) are viral infections that affect the respiratory system, and while the symptoms for each of these conditions have similarities, there are also some differences.
The most common symptoms of a cold are a stuffy or runny nose, sore or itchy throat, cough, mild headache, sneezing, watery eyes, low-grade fever, mild fatigue, and slight body aches.
Symptoms of the flu usually are more severe and come on quickly. They may include the following:
- Fever (can be high)
- General weakness
- Severe muscle and/or joint aches and pain
- Dry cough
- Runny nose, watery eyes, and sore throat
Colds and flu are stressful for the body, and they can have a negative impact on blood glucose levels. Dr. Collins warns that stress hormones released during an illness such as cold and flu can make it difficult for people with diabetes to control blood sugar levels.
In addition, she noted that "loss of appetite can change the amount you normally eat and make taking your medications difficult."
What to do if you get the flu
The American Diabetes Association recommends that people with diabetes who catch the flu check their blood sugar levels every three to four hours. If you feel miserable with cold or flu symptoms, it's easy to miss signs that your blood sugar levels are too high or too low. It's also important to check for ketones, as soaring levels can result in a coma.
Dr. Collins points out that "one of the best clinically prove products to shorten the duration of the common cold is zinc gluconate." She recommends taking zinc gluconate when you first notice signs of a cold.
Although people with diabetes can take over-the-counter medications for cold and flu, it's important to read the ingredient labels carefully. Here are some tips when buying cold and flu drugs:
- Avoid products that contain sugar. Liquid flu and cold medications typically contain added sugar
- Look for medications that are labeled sugar-free. Examples include Cold-EEZE Sugar Free lozenges and Cold-EEZE Oral Spray, which are sugar-free
- If you use cough drops, select sugar-free varieties.
- Avoid cough syrups that contain alcohol
Best foods for diabetics with cold or flu
Even if you feel lousy and aren't hungry or thirsty, it's critical that you stay hydrated and adequately nourished so you keep your blood sugar levels in balance. If you experience vomiting and/or diarrhea, be sure to keep sipping fluids, about 8 ounces per hour.
If your blood sugar is high, select sugar-free beverages such as teas, water, broth (low-salt), or sugar-free ginger ale. If, however, your blood sugar is low, choose liquids that contain about 15 grams of carbohydrates, such as grape juice.
Dr. Collins recommends eating foods rich in vitamins A, C, D, and E, as well as the mineral zinc, because "they play a critical role in helping your immune system work efficiently and effectively." She notes that getting sufficient amounts of these nutrients can be easy if you consume a varied diet that includes fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and dairy at each meal.
For example, Dr. Collin stresses the importance of citrus fruits and vegetables (e.g., oranges, red peppers, grapefruit) for vitamin C, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, and leafy greens for vitamin A (strive for 2,500 to 3,000 IUs daily but don't exceed 10,000 IU per day), and try to get some sunlight at least four days a week (20 minutes each session) for vitamin D.
Vitamin E is found in seeds, nuts, and vegetable oils, while zinc is abundant in oysters. For those who don't like seafood, healthy amounts of zinc can be found in almonds, cashews, peanuts, pine nuts, and sunflower seeds.
Everyone should prepare for the cold and flu season, but individuals with diabetes should take extra care. One last reminder on how to prepare for the cold and flu season if you have diabetes is to consider getting a pneumonia shot, because people with diabetes are about three times more likely to die from pneumonia or the flu.
American Diabetes Association
Jennifer Collins, MD, personal correspondence. Collins is chief medical spokesperson for Cold-EEZE