Keeping Your Blood Sugar Stable With the Common Cold

Editor's Note: This article was originally written by patient expert Jackie Smith.

The common cold has been uncommonly common for me in recent months. I typically get maybe one cold a year but this season, in spite of getting the flu and H1N1 shots, I succumbed to the onslaught of viruses hurled my way. I'm currently wrapping up the latest attack - congestion, sore throat, cough, overall tiredness - with a lingering throaty voice that makes me sound like a 30-year smoker or teen queen Miley Cyrus.

When I'm sick I prefer to escape from the world, stay under covers, watch cartoons or Hammer horror films, eat gummy candy and drink Vitamin water. All these things I did do, but in the interest of becoming a more responsible type 2 diabetes patient I read up on what I SHOULD do.

When you are sick, your body reacts by releasing hormones to fight infection. These hormones raise blood sugar levels and at the same time make it more difficult for insulin to lower blood sugar. As a result, when you are sick, it is harder to keep your blood sugar in your target range.

Here are some guidelines to follow when you are ill:

  • Check your blood sugar every four hours.
  • Check your temperature regularly.
  • Try to stick to your regular eating plan, even if you have no appetite. Try to eat as closely to your normal eating times as possible. Aim for 50 grams of carbohydrates every three to four hours. This will help keep your blood sugar levels stable.
  • Make sure you are drinking liquids if you are unable to keep down solid food. Drink one cup of liquid every hour while you are awake to prevent dehydration. Aim for 50 grams of carbohydrate every three to four hours. This can include broth or bouillon, ½ cup regular soft drink (think Sprint or 7-up), ½ cup sports drink, weak tea. Other high-carbohydrate liquids and almost-liquids are juice, frozen juice bars, sherbet, pudding, creamed soups, applesauce, and fruit-flavored yogurt.
  • Do not stop taking your insulin or oral medications, even if you are unable to eat solid foods. You may need to eat or drink something with sugar in some form so that your blood sugar doesn't drop too low. Check with your doctor if you are unsure of what to do.
  • If you need an over-the-counter medicine to control symptoms such as cough and nasal congestion, ask your doctor or pharmacist for a list of sugar-free products that are available.

When Should I Call My Doctor?

If you have diabetes and are sick, call your doctor if:

  • Your blood sugar stays higher than 180 mg/dL or lowers than 70 mg/dL.
  • You have a fever.
  • You have diarrhea or are vomiting.
  • You can't eat normally.
  • You can't keep liquids down.
  • You are losing weight and your temperature, breathing rate and pulse are increasing.
  • You feel weak or dizzy.

Pre-type 2 diabetes I would typically avoid doctors, figuring "ah- I'll be fine. All I need is to sleep my way through the symptoms, watch some bad TV during my few waking hours and come out on the other side." However, post-type 2 diabetes diagnosis, I'm making sure to see my doctor even when I suspect what the right course of action might be and which over-the-counter medications will do the trick. This last cold it felt good to have a MD's official word on the matter -- no infection, no pneumonia, yay -- and the MD's alternate plan when plan A didn't work.

No one likes to get sick. But if you've got diabetes, you need to take extra care of yourself!