When people feel under the weather, reaching for over-the-counter remedies seems to be a simple solution. OTC remedies are considered medications that may cause contraindications, especially for those with diabetes and other related health conditions such as heart disease. Discover more about choosing the right over-the-counter remedies when you have diabetes.

OTC Remedies Are Serious Medications

OTC medications or herbal remedies may not be as harmless as you think. Some interact with your prescription medications and others may contain sugar, alcohol or other ingredients that raise your blood glucose levels and add calories to your daily meal plan. Artificial sweeteners such as sorbitol or mannitol may lead to diarrhea and dehydration if not taken in proper doses. Do select sugar-free OTC remedies when possible. The pill form of an OTC medication has the least amount of alcohol/ sugar where as the liquid form has the most.

Consult with Your Health Care Team

Always consult with your doctor and pharmacist about taking OTC medications to get their advice and approval. Find out how to include the remedy in your current diabetes management schedule. Always monitor your blood sugar when you add an OTC remedy or other medication since you may notice a drastic change. Alcohol wipes are a good way to clean your hands and the testing area before you prick your fingers. When possible, it is always best to wash your hands with mild soap and warm water to ensure the most accurate blood sugar reading. If your symptoms linger for more than a few days, contact your doctor. Visit your doctor immediately if you cannot swallow, have a high fever and/or your blood sugar levels stay high for more than 24 hours. Contact your physician if your blood sugars drop below 70 and you experience hypoglycemia for more than 24 hours. Check for ketones in your blood or urine and get medical assistance if they are medium or large.

Ingredients Lurking in Cold and Cough Remedies

When you have a sore throat or cold, OTC remedies may be the answer to your nagging symptoms. Keep in mind certain ingredients could cause your blood sugar and/or blood pressure to rise. Pseudoephedrine can cause numbers to climb beyond normal levels. Products with caffeine should be avoided to keep your blood pressure, dehydration and anxiety levels down. Decongestants with ephedrine, phenyl ephedrine, phenylpropanolamine, and epinephrine can raise your blood glucose levels. Watch for warning labels intended for people with diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Read the labels on medications carefully to find out what they contain as some have more than one active ingredient.

Consult with a Physician before Treating a Common Cold

Talk to your doctor before taking cold medications or decongestants. Your doctor might recommend alternatives, such as a chest cream or salve to relieve congestion and a saline nasal spray to clear up a stuffy nose. They may suggest a humidifier or a steam shower. Pain relievers such as acetaminophen, aspirin or ibuprofen may be recommended to treat mild aches and fever. Aspirin and ibuprofen should not be taken together and always use the dosages recommended by your health care team. High doses of aspirin can lead to hypoglycemia and bleeding stomach issues. Large doses of ibuprofen that are taken over time can raise your blood sugar levels. Always consult your doctor prior to taking anti-diarrheal medications, laxatives, antacids or anti-nausea medications as they can lead to dehydration, high and low blood sugar levels, and other potential health issues.

Herbal Remedies and Vitamins

Keep in mind certain herbal medications, such as ginseng and Echinacea can also have effects on people with diabetes and their use should be approved by your doctor. Herbal remedies, botanicals and homeopathic remedies are all considered OTC medications and may cause contraindications. Vitamin C can reduce the risk of colds for people with diabetes who have compromised immune systems. Low vitamin D levels have been associated with possible insulin resistance. Take vitamin D in liquid form to help with absorption. Remember, adding any OTC remedy may affect blood sugars or blood pressure.

Tips for People with Diabetes Who Feel Ill

Keep taking your insulin when you are sick and remain hydrated by drinking fluids such as water and sugar-free beverages with electrolytes. Eat carbohydrate foods that are easy to digest in small portions throughout the day, such as chicken noodle soup, rice, bananas, and toast. Try to plan ahead for sick days. Prepare a sick day box which holds various supplies including a digital thermometer, urine ketone testing strips, canned low sodium soups and extra sugar free drinks. Remember to read the labels on all OTC medications. If you have kidney problems or high blood pressure check the potassium and sodium content.

Over-the-counter remedies can provide essential relief when they are used wisely and with the approval of your physician. Choose OTC remedies carefully and stick to you usual diabetes self-management plan. With the right care and treatment, you’ll be feeling healthy again soon!