Diabetes and Flu Season

Because we have diabetes, we do not bounce back from infections easily. We are more likely to get sick with the flu and are also three times more likely to need a hospital stay from the virus and its complications.

But there are a few things we can do to lower our risks. Getting the recommended flu shot has been proven to lower your chances of getting sick from flu. Washing your hands more often helps too, especially when you are around sick children — something that happens to me quite often this time of year.


Also avoid touching your face with your hands during flu season, because this transfers viruses you may have picked up.

No matter what you do, you may get sick anyway, so here are some things you need to know. Since you have diabetes, viruses and other infections complicate your blood sugar control. For instance, your numbers may drop low because your diet changes.

Or they may soar up high and be difficult to bring down. This happened to me when I contracted Lyme disease.

Always let your doctor know when you feel sick, and have a clear idea of what you should do to take care of yourself. Do not take flu symptoms lightly.

What are the symptoms of flu? According to the American Diabetes Association, we need to watch for aching, fever, cough, sore throat, headache, chills, fatigue, runny or stuffy nose, and stomach problems like diarrhea and throwing up. It is possible to be sick without a fever, so we have to pay attention to the other symptoms even if we do not feel feverish.

Be sure to continue taking your diabetes medicine as your doctor orders it. Your health-care provider may also give you an antiviral or antibiotic to help your body fight. Always follow the directions you have been given.

Here are some other tips from the ADA. They recommend checking your blood glucose every three to four hours and keeping track of the results. Drink extra liquids and try to eat your normal diet. If that is not possible, aim to drink 50 grams of carbohydrate every three to four hours so your blood sugar does not drop low. There are liquid supplements like Glucerna and Boost that may help.

Watch out for over-the-counter medications that are loaded with sugar. Syrups and cough drops are two of the big culprits here, so read labels and get the sugar-free kind.

While you are sick, weighing yourself every day is a good idea. If you lose weight it may be a sign of high blood glucose, which can lead to ketoacidosis — a dangerous condition that can end at a diabetic coma if not caught early.

The symptoms of ketoacidosis feel much like flu, so your health-care professional may ask you to check your urine for ketones while you are sick.

It is also recommended to check your temperature every morning and evening, since fever is a sign of infection. My doctors prefer to treat with antibiotics or antivirals when that happens, because they do not want to take chances with my Type 2 diabetes.

Here are symptoms you should take seriously. If you have them, call your doctor. With diabetes you may need extra help, as much as you may hate to admit it. Do not ignore these signs and symptoms (which come directly from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention):

• You feel too sick to eat normally and cannot keep food or liquids down for more than six hours.
• You have severe diarrhea.
• You lose 5 pounds or more.
• Your temperature is over 101°F.
• Your blood glucose is lower than 60 mg/dl or stays above 250 mg/dl after two checks.
• You urine ketones and are high.
• You are having trouble breathing.
• You feel sleepy or cannot think clearly.

As noted above, it is not unusual for a person with diabetes to end up in the hospital with complications of flu, so please do not be shy about calling your doctor. Whatever happens, be prepared, and take care of yourself. You are not replaceable.