Once the summer season slips away, everyone realizes the flu season is upon us. This season is particularly challenging for people who are managing diabetes. Learn more about the flu, possible diabetes complications and what to do about them during this difficult time of year.
- The first priority is to get a flu shot. Try to avoid the many misconceptions of this vaccine. The flu shot contains dead virus and does not cause the actual flu. Those who have allergies to eggs should not take the flu shot. Remember, it takes two weeks to activate. The United States Center for Disease Control advises people with type 1 or 2 diabetes, aged six months or older, to get an annual flu vaccine. When the body tries to fight infections such as the flu, it can make your blood sugar rise. If you stop eating due to a case of the flu, your blood sugar can plummet. Getting a flu shot can help your compromised immune system fight off the illness. Try to get a flu shot by the end of September or the beginning of October, which is when the flu season starts.
- People with diabetes are at a higher risk of developing pneumonia when they do get the flu. As a result, a pneumonia (pneumococcal) vaccine is usually part of a diabetes management plan. Talk to your doctor about getting a pneumonia shot and whether you need to get a booster shot after five years. There are newer versions of the pneumonia vaccine which are especially targeted to the elderly. You can get the two vaccines at the same time in different arms.
- Common sense goes a long way when it comes to fighting off the flu. Wash your hands regularly, especially before eating meals, testing your blood sugar or administering medication. When possible, try to avoid people who are sick. Avoid shaking hands during flu season. Keep extra diabetes supplies on-hand during the flu season so you can check your blood sugar regularly if you get sick. Checking every 4-6 hours is important when you have the flu since blood sugars can change drastically without symptoms.
- Discuss a sick day plan with your doctor. Ask what medications you can take to treat flu symptoms to avoid contraindications. Find out how to adjust your medications if it becomes necessary. Ask when to call the office when you feel really sick and may need additional assistance. If you purchase cold and flu products that are approved by your doctor, they should be sugar-free and alcohol-free. Try to avoid using decongestants such as phenylephrine or pseudoephedrine as they can make it harder to control your blood sugar levels. Saline nasal spray or Neti-pots with a sterile saline solution are good ways to relieve a stuffy nose. If you take blood pressure medication, ask your doctor which OTC flu medications could cause your blood pressure to raise.
- Take your prescribed diabetes medications according to the schedule provided by your doctor. Check your blood sugar every 4 hours if you are sick and test your urine for ketones if your blood sugar rises to more than 240 mg/dL. If the ketone test is positive, let your doctor know immediately. Drink water to stay hydrated or suck on ice chips if your throat is sore. If you have trouble eating or are nauseated, ask your doctor about having four ounces of regular soda to get your carbohydrate source. Keep diabetes-friendly foods that are easy to prepare in your pantry, such as canned soups, broth, sugar-free jello and oatmeal that are low in sodium and sugar.
- Call the doctor if you have trouble controlling your blood sugar or find ketones in your urine. Other causes for concern are ongoing diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal pains as well as a fever over 101.5, dizziness, a loss of 5 pounds or more, difficulty breathing and/or disorientation.
- Fighting off the flu can help reduce your risk of diabetes-related complications and other health issues such as sinus infections, bronchitis and ear infections.
It is important for people with diabetes to learn how to fight off the flu and what they need to do if they get sick. An ounce of prevention can go a long way. Taking proper care of yourself can reduce the risk of developing other health conditions so you can feel better sooner.