Common Cold. Common Annoyance.

Having the common cold for many is a self-limiting annoyance. However, if you have diabetes a bout with the common cold can make diabetes management a true challenge. This article will hopefully assist you in being better prepared if you do come down with the common cold this season.

According to WebMD: “In the U.S., most colds happen during the fall and winter. Beginning in late August or early September, the rate increases slowly for a few weeks and remains high until March or April, when it goes down.” The reason may partly have to do with the opening of schools. Cold weather may also play a role because it leads you to spend more time indoors, where you're in closer contact with people who are contagious.” 1

The common cold is a virus that typically lasts for 7 to 10 days. Common symptoms of the common cold include: sneezing, runny nose, sore throat, and watery eyes. If you have a high fever along with muscle aches, you may have the flu. 1

Tips for managing diabetes while you are sick


During an illness, blood glucose levels may need to be monitored more frequently, up to every 2 to 4 hours (or as advised by your physician).2 The reason for additional monitoring is that illness, of any kind, will put your body under additional stress. This added stress may result in elevated blood sugar levels that do not respond to your usual diabetes management.


  • Dehydration can contribute to high blood glucose levels.
  • Drinking 8 ounces of fluid (carbohydrate free) every hour will help keep you hydrated.2
  • A sodium rich liquid, such as a bouillon cube/chicken broth/vegetable broth, should be consumed every third hour (or as advised by your physician). 2


DO NOT stop taking your medication during a cold/illness UNLESS your physician has instructed you to do so. This is especially true for those of you with insulin-treated diabetes. Insulin needs tend to increase during illness.

If you are considering an over the counter (OTC) medication to manage your cold symptoms, first speak with your physician and/or pharmacist as some OTC medication may interact with your diabetes medication. Some OTC medications may also cause your blood sugar levels to rise. “Oral decongestants as a category (of OTC cold medications) have the most potential for affecting blood sugar control as well as elevating blood pressure.” 3 Common oral decongestants include Sudafed and Dimetapp.


  • Keep easy to digest and soft foods on hand at home. Such foods may include: chicken broth, vegetable broth, unsweetened applesauce, sports drinks (i.e. Gatorade), gelatin and ginger ale.
  • Aim to consume 150 to 200 grams of carbohydrate daily, ideally spread evenly throughout the day.
    • Your physician and/or dietitian can advise you if a lesser/greater amount of carbohydrates is necessary.
  • If you are able, switch from liquids to soft foods.2
  • If your blood sugar level is above 150 mg/dL, drinking carbohydrate-free liquids may be a better option as to prevent blood sugar spikes.

    When Should You Contact Your Physician?

    Ask your physician for sick day guidelines. Such guidelines should include conditions that require medical attention, some of which may include:

    • Vomiting more than 1 time. 2
    • Diarrhea lasting 6 hours or longer. 2
    • Blood sugar levels great than 300 mg/dL on 2 consecutive occasions that are not responsive to increased insulin (if you take insulin) and increased fluids. 2
    • Moderate to large urine ketones or blood ketones. 2
    • Temperature above 101.1 degree Fahrenheit. 4

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