What to Know If You Have Diabetes and the Flu or Virus

By: Jolie Wiener

June 01, 2020

Influenza and diabetes can be a dangerous combination. Anyone who isn't vaccinated has a chance of catching the flu during flu season, but people with diabetes should take extra care not to become infected. That’s because people with diabetes have a weakened immune system—so a regular flu can pose a serious, even life-threatening health risk. So, what does the flu look like in comparison to the common cold? Here are a few of symptoms of the flu:

  • Fever, which is usually high (you may also experience chills)
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Sore throat and dry cough
  • Runny or stuffy nose

But people with diabetes need to understand how the flu can affect them differently than everyone else. Here is what you need to know about diabetes and the flu.

Diabetes Flu Complications

Why exactly is diabetes and a high fever such a big deal? If you have diabetes, flu complications are likely to be magnified. Why? Diabetes is a chronic condition your body is always in combating—meaning less of its resources are left over to take on yet another threat. The combination of diabetes and viral infections is particularly problematic because of how stress impacts blood sugar levels. Catching the flu when you have diabetes puts an extra burden on your immune system, pushing it into overdrive and throwing your blood sugar off-kilter. People with diabetes have a higher chance of the flu , developing into pneumonia, respiratory distress, or worsening their diabetes. Given that the flu and diabetes can be a lethal combination, people with diabetes need to stay informed about prevention and options for treatment.

Diabetes and Flu Medication: What's Safe to Take?

If you have both the flu and diabetes, it's safe to take over-the-counter medications to soothe your symptoms. But be mindful of meds with high sugar content, which include the majority of liquid flu and cough medicines. Opt for sugar-free medications wherever possible.

What to Do If You Have the Flu and Diabetes

If you're someone with diabetes and suspect that you've caught something stronger than a cold, here are a few of the steps we recommend you take.
  • Talk to your doctor. As soon as you're symptomatic, consult with your primary care provider to determine a course of action. Medical attention becomes especially necessary in the case of vomiting. In general, if you have questions or concerns, your doctor is there to guide you.
  • Check your blood sugar more often. Take a reading every couple of hours. Flu symptoms wreak havoc on your body and can mask changes in blood sugar that you'd normally pick up on without needing to check. If you experience major changes in blood sugar, get in touch with your doctor as soon as possible.
  • Stick to your regular diet. As much as you might not feel like yourself, following your regular meal plan can help balance your blood sugar levels.
  • Stay hydrated. Diarrhea and vomiting are two common flu-related struggles. Keep your fluids high by drinking plenty of water throughout the day, with at least 1 cup per hour. Sugar-free drinks such as tea are a great way to stay hydrated if your blood sugar is elevated. Alternatively, if your blood sugar is low, go for juice or a sports drink instead.

Steering Clear of the Flu

Type 2 diabetes and the flu is a combination you want to avoid at all costs. What's the best strategy for prevention? A flu shot. Make sure to get your yearly vaccination when flu season rolls around. Set a reminder in your calendar and make an effort to follow through. Encourage the people you're in close contact with to get vaccinated and make sure that you wash your hands thoroughly and regularly, especially when you've been in public places. The complications of the flu and diabetes together are severe and not catching the virus in the first place is a much more enjoyable path to explore than treatment options.

Type 2 Diabetes and Coronavirus

If you're experiencing the hallmark features of COVID-19 and you have diabetes, our advice is to stay calm, monitor your blood sugar carefully, and seek immediate medical attention over the phone. Check out our recommendations on how best to avoid the virus and what we know about the interaction between the two conditions. And make sure to join the CuraLife Winning Type 2 Diabetes Together community to see how other diabetics are handling flu symptoms.

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