The cold and flu survival guide.
It's always important to eat properly and control your blood sugar. Especially when you're under the weather. "Blood sugar can go up from the stress of the infection. And because you are tired and might not be getting enough calories, you run the risk of having low blood sugar," says Betul Hatipoglu, M.D., staff physician at the Cleveland Clinic Endocrinology & Metabolism Institute in Cleveland, OH. When you are sick, you need to check your blood sugars every two to three hours, she says, adding that, "High blood sugars put you at risk for another infection. Something as simple as a cold can turn into pneumonia."
Colds and flu share symptoms, like fatigue, fever, and sore throat, so it's not always easy to tell the difference. They're caused by viruses — influenza causes flu; rhinovirus causes colds — and they're both contagious, says Gary Scheiner, MS, CDE, and Owner and Clinical Director of Integrated Diabetes Services in Wynnewood, PA.
The flu is usually more severe, with higher fevers, headaches, "all over" muscle aches and pains, and stomach problems that can affect calorie intake, says Hatipoglu. Whereas colds cause runny noses, sore throats, and congestion, and generally cause symptoms "anywhere from the neck up," adds Kristi Silver, M.D., Acting Director of the University of Maryland Center for Diabetes and Endocrinology, and Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, MD.
"Drink water and fluids at least every hour, and rest," Hatipoglu advises. "If your sugar is high, alternate with sugar-free liquids." Hatipoglu further recommends regular juices or broth if your sugar is low. If you're not eating enough calories or you can't keep food down, you can develop low blood sugar.
Vitamin C is currently a disputed method of cold prevention. According to Hatipoglu, one 5-year study did find it to be beneficial, but studies are inconsistent and the research continues. Another recent study has found that zinc may shorten the duration of the common cold in people without additional health conditions. People with type 1 and those with insulin-dependent type 2 need to adjust their insulin. Insulin helps flush out ketones, which can be dangerous for anyone with diabetes, according to Scheiner. Starvation ketones come from a lack of carbohydrates. Or, they start rising when you miss your insulin or the insulin is not working properly because of the infection, he explains. Both home urine and blood ketone testing kits are available. Ask your healthcare provider whether such kits may be appropriate for you.
Look for sugar-free medications to treat symptoms like coughs and congestion, says Silver. And make sure your medications won't complicate other health problems — often the case with people with type 2 — like heart disease or hypertension, adds Scheiner. "Don't hesitate to call your doctor if your symptoms get worse or you can't keep fluids down," Hatipoglu advises.
Prevent and Prepare
Increasing the frequency of your blood sugar testing during times of stress and illness is vital for preventing the development of both low and high sugar levels.
The flu vaccine is excellent for the prevention of flu, though not colds. The spread of colds and flu is a contact sport — touching infected objects and then touching your face, which can lead to infection. So frequent hand washing is important, says Silver. "Get outdoors as much as possible. It helps you avoid re-circulated, possibly contaminated air inside," adds Scheiner. "And plan ahead," says Karen Harriman, RN, a certified diabetes educator and family nurse practitioner with Inova Health System Diabetes Center in Virginia. Before you get sick. Prepare a "sick day box" and include physician phone numbers, cold and flu medications, gelatin packets, electrolyte drinks, and glucose testing equipment. "When you're feeling bad," she explains, "the last thing you want to do is search for these things." Keep your blood sugars in check when you're healthy. "Bacteria and viruses love high blood sugar," Scheiner explains, which makes it even easier for them to make you sick in the first place.
Reviewed by Jason Baker, M.D. 07/11.
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I have spent the past three days dealing with an evil stomach bug. Gastro issues, bloodsugar issues and a headache for the ages - along with a low grade fever - left me in bed trying (and mostly failing) to rest. I'm back at work today after two sick days, but still on slo-mo. Weird bloodsugars are always my "getting sick" miner's canary. Everyone knows what a miner's canary is, right? Back in the day, miners would keep a caged bird (often a canary) with them in the mine....