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How Do Cold and Flu Meds Affect Diabetes?

a couple looking at cold medicine

Choosing cold and flu medications can be a little challenging when you have diabetes. Some medications may raise your blood sugar, while others can worsen the symptoms of related conditions, such as high blood pressure.

Do you know how to pick the safest cold and flu medications?

Myths vs. Facts: How Cold and Flu Meds Affect Diabetes

Read on to see which of these statements is true – and which ones may make you rethink how you take medication when you have diabetes or other chronic health conditions.

A Medication is Safe if You’ve Taken it in the Past

Myth. The medications you took before you were diagnosed with diabetes may no longer be safe for you.

Pseudoephedrine, an ingredient found in many decongestants, could raise your blood pressure and blood sugar. Blood sugar spikes may be more likely to occur if you’ve been using the medication for a while, but they can happen at any time.

Antihistamines may cause the opposite problem. Your blood sugar may drop dangerously low while you take them. Your provider may prescribe a steroid medication to decrease swelling in your nose or throat if you have a viral infection. While the drug can help you breathe easier, it may also send your blood sugar level soaring.

Whether you’re taking a decongestant, antihistamine, steroid, or another type of medication, it’s a good idea to check your blood sugar several times throughout the day when you're sick.

When a particular medication does affect your blood sugar, your doctor may recommend you stop taking it. If your physician wants you to continue using the drug, they may change your insulin or diabetes medication dosage temporarily.

You Need to Consider the Combined Side Effects of All medications You're Taking

Fact. The more medications you take, the more likely you are to experience side effects. A slight increase in your blood sugar caused by one medication might be acceptable. Combining several medications that increase blood sugar may cause your level to rise too high.

Decongestants and medications that contain caffeine can increase your blood pressure. If you already have high blood pressure or you have glaucoma, an increase can cause problems that may threaten your health.

You Don’t Need to Take Your Diabetes Medication if You Have a Cold or the Flu

Myth. Unfortunately, diabetes doesn’t take a break when you are sick.

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In addition to taking cold and flu medication, you’ll need to continue to use your insulin or diabetes medications. Your body may still produce too much glucose (blood sugar) even if you feel too sick to eat much or feel too tired to get out of bed. The stress of being ill may also raise your blood sugar level, complicating your recovery.

Since you're not following your usual routine, your doctor may recommend that you test your blood sugar more often than you usually do.

Cold and Flu Medications Don’t Contain Sugar

Myth. If a medication is flavored, it probably contains some sugar. You can quickly tell if sugar is included by taking a look at the label. If you see a zero next to the carbohydrate heading, the medication isn’t sweetened.

You don’t necessarily have to avoid medications with sugar, particularly if they only include small amounts. But if you must take the medication often or you take several medications that contain sugar, you’ll soon be consuming more sugar than you may have anticipated.

When possible, use sugar-free versions of medications, or take the pill form of a medication (if available) rather than the liquid.

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