Lungs with a zoomed in view of alveoli

Type 2 Diabetes and Respiratory Infections

Respiratory infections are one type of severe infection that often affects people with type 2 diabetes. In fact, a 2022 study reported that 52 percent of people with type 2 diabetes experience severe respiratory infections. Only 9 percent of people who do not have type 2 diabetes suffer from these infections.1

When a person with type 2 diabetes gets a respiratory infection, it can lead to serious health problems.1,2

What is a respiratory infection?

A respiratory infection is an infection that affects the nose, sinuses, throat, and airways. It is caused by a virus or bacteria entering the lungs. Examples include:2

Why are people with type 2 diabetes at increased risk for these infections?

Type 2 diabetes can make it hard for the immune system to fight off infections. This makes those with the condition more likely to develop:1

  • Skin infections
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Respiratory infections

Along with a weakened immune system, there are several reasons why people with type 2 diabetes are more prone to infection. These reasons may include:1

  • The body cannot use energy from food efficiently, leading to insulin resistance
  • Lack of vitamin D
  • Side effects from diabetes medicines
  • Other chronic health issues, such as asthma

Studies show that having diabetes worsens flu and COVID-19 symptoms. In previous flu seasons, 30 percent of all people who were hospitalized had diabetes. Similarly, during the COVID-19 pandemic, people with diabetes who had COVID-19 were more likely to be hospitalized.1,3

Symptoms of respiratory infections

Symptoms of respiratory infections include:2

  • Cough, with or without mucus (phlegm)
  • Fever
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Hoarse voice
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Fatigue

People with type 2 diabetes who get a respiratory infection can have severe complications. These may include:1,2

  • Tuberculosis (TB) – a contagious bacterial infection that affects the lungs
  • Pneumonia – an illness that causes fluid to build up in the lungs
  • Hospitalization
  • Death

How are respiratory infections treated?

Right now, there is no single drug that treats all respiratory infections. But you can manage symptoms by:2,4

  • Getting lots of rest
  • Drinking plenty of liquids and staying hydrated
  • Taking over-the-counter fever reducers and pain relievers, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen
  • Continuing to take your diabetes medicines, unless instructed to stop by your doctor

Respiratory infections usually go away on their own. If your symptoms are severe or if they last longer than 2 weeks, call your doctor.2

Vaccines for respiratory infection prevention

Vaccines that protect against preventable diseases are important for everyone. But they are especially critical for people who live with type 2 diabetes. Doctors recommend getting the following vaccines if you have diabetes:5,6

  • COVID-19 vaccine to protect against the novel coronavirus
  • Influenza vaccine to protect against the flu
  • Hepatitis B vaccine to protect against a liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus
  • Pneumococcal vaccine to protect against illnesses such as pneumonia, sepsis (blood poisoning), and meningitis
  • Tdap vaccine to protect against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis
  • Zoster vaccine to protect against shingles
  • RSV vaccine if available in the future

If you are unsure which vaccines you need, talk with your doctor. They also can help you create a vaccine schedule so you get each vaccine as often as you should.4

Other ways to stay healthy

Anyone with an increased risk of severe illness from respiratory infections should take extra care to stay healthy. Here are some habits that may help keep you from getting sick:1,2,6

  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Get regular exercise
  • Stay on top of doctor visits
  • Get annual vaccines
  • Avoid close contact with anyone who is sick
  • Wash your hands often and for at least 20 seconds
  • Try not to touch your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands
  • Clean surfaces often with disinfectant
  • Stay at home if you are sick

If you live with diabetes and think you may have a respiratory infection, contact your doctor so you can get tested and treated.1,2

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