The Flu and Diabetes

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The kids will be heading back to school which here in Canada usually coincides with the start of Flu season. So what about the Flu and diabetes?

We all hate to see our kids feeling miserable with the Flu and it is an even bigger concern if that child is a type 1 diabetic like our grandson Alex.

I needed to learn how the Flu can affect my grandson should he get it. Yes, the odds are increased with school attendance.

We all know how fast a cold or flu can go through a classroom. One kid with sniffles and soon the whole class sniffling and coughing perhaps even other classes as well.

And we are not out of the woods with this COVID yet either. A second or third wave is still a possibility.

With an immuno-compromised family member, these are very real concerns.

My daughter is terrified of sending him back to school and I don’t blame her, I am just as concerned.

In these weeks leading up to the start of school, my mind is racing…

What’s the difference between a cold and the Flu

A cold is a much milder respiratory infection than the flu (influenza).

Both can cause you to have a runny nose and congestion, sore throat, and cough.

The flu is often more serious and also has other additional symptoms.

As a Type 1 or the caregiver of Type 1, it is important to plan for cold and flu season.

Develop a sick Day Plan

It is a good idea to develop a sick day plan and prepare for the flu season before you are sick:

  • make a list of recommended medications available to alleviate symptoms
  • have the contact info of your doctor as well as when/ where they can be reached during regular hours or after hours/holiday time
  • create a plan of action covering things like how frequently to check blood glucose levels when to call your doctor
  • to have enough diabetic supplies on hand in case you are not feeling well enough to go out. Huge Savings on Diabetic Supplies!
  • stock up on soups, crackers, sugar-free ginger ale, frozen yogurt, etc.

Especially in these COVID times, it is still important to wear a face mask if you do need to head to the store for medications or food.

Symptoms of FluThe Flu and Diabetes - symptoms of flu

The symptoms of the flu usually come on quickly and can include:

  • fever (usually high)
  • severe aches and pains in the muscles, joints, and around the eyes
  • weakness
  • warm flushed skin and watery, red eyes
  • headache
  • dry cough
  • sore throat and runny nose

Complications of Flu

I have to be honest, after learning about the complications of the flu and what that can mean to a type 1 diabetic it scared me.

By having a type 1 diabetic in the family, I no longer think of the flu as ‘just the flu’. This is serious.

In some cases, the flu (influenza) can lead to chest infections which may develop into pneumonia.

Rarer complications include tonsillitis, meningitis, and encephalitis.

Diabetics are at an increased risk of developing complications or death if they get the flu.

The flu can be a killer and is responsible for around 600 deaths a year.

An epidemic such as the Spanish Flu can kill thousands or more people in a year.

We are still feeling the effects of the more recent COVID-19 which is still an ongoing pandemic.

Flu medication

There is no magic cure for the flu, it is after all a viral infection and antibiotics are not effective against viruses.The Flu and Diabetes - medication

However, there are many over-the-counter medications available to treat the symptoms.

Be sure to read the labels and avoid medications with high sugar content.

Many liquid cough and flu drugs, cough drops, and liquid cough medicines have very high sugar content.

Ask your pharmacist about sugar-free options.

Keep in mind, flu medications only treat symptoms, the body needs to recover on its own.

How will Flu Affect Blood Sugar?

Everyone is different and the flu can raise blood glucose levels although the decreased appetite associated with the flu can cause low blood glucose levels.

As a diabetic, it is important to monitor blood glucose levels more frequently than usual. This is important because the general not feeling well from the flu can mask hypoglycemic or hyperglycemic symptoms.

Be sure to check for ketones if blood sugar rises above 15 mmol.

What should you eat

Even though you don’t feel well and likely won’t have an appetite it is important to continue eating a healthy diet.

Try to eat about 15 grams of carbs every hour or so.The Flu and Diabetes - a slice of toast

This could be :

  • a slice of toast
  • 3/4 cup frozen yogurt
  • 1 cup of soup

Continue monitoring your blood sugar levels and talk with your health care team if you need advice managing your blood glucose levels.

Stay hydrated

Some people get nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea with the flu so dehydration is a real risk.

Try to drink 1 cup every hour to ensure you are getting enough fluids.

Choose sugar-free drinks such as:

  • water
  • tea
  • to sugar-free ginger ale

If your blood sugar is low you could try 1/4 cup grape juice or 1 cup of a sports drink.

When our grandson goes low apple juice always works to bring his levels up.

Avoid the Flu

This year we all wear masks when out in public which I believe will help prevent any large flu outbreaks but there is always the risk.

As a diabetic, you are at a higher risk of complications or death from the flu so it is best to try to avoid getting it.The Flu and Diabetes - vaccine

Health care providers recommend getting a yearly flu shot or nasal vaccine.

Close family and care-workers should also get a yearly flu shot as well.

It is easier to avoid getting the flu if those around you don’t get it.

Frequent hand washing is also a good way to avoid getting sick from germs.

There is also a pneumonia shot that is advised for diabetics to get. According to the ADA, only 1 in 3 diabetics ever gets this shot. Did you know that people with diabetes are three times more likely to die from flu and pneumonia?

Final thoughts

The Flu and Diabetes is a topic that has worried me recently with the knowledge that our children will soon be back in the classroom.

It is common knowledge that colds and flu are spread through airborne droplets when someone coughs or sneezes.

We also know that young children don’t always cover their mouths and nose when coughing or sneezing increasing the risk of infection by others.

Then there are the complications of flu that can develop for a diabetic.

We will be diligent in our efforts to keep Alex safe.

First and foremost is hand washing. We will continue to be vigilant about hand-washing regularly.

There is also the annual flu shot that will be received by all family members.

Naturally, our daughter has been educating Alex on what he can do to help keep himself safe.

Both households have stocked up on cold and flu medications as well as soup, crackers, ginger ale, etc. in case someone should come down with the flu.

I am not in any way a medical practitioner, please do not rely on the information on our website as an alternative to medical advice from your doctor or another healthcare provider. We only share our experiences.

How do you prepare for the flu season?

Do you have any tips to add?

Leave your comments in the section below. I look forward to reading your suggestions.

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4 thoughts on “The Flu and Diabetes”

  1. Thank you for such an insightful post on a topic which is really important – I have learnt what I did not know about Diabetes & Flu and this is very useful. Where it concerns a young child I understand your concern with the return to school happening shortly. Wow, what year this has been – we can only pause, take some deep breathes, believe for strength to keep positive and see the sun peeking through those clouds! My personal choice when I get a cold coming on is to get some lime hiuce in a mug, pour in hot water and sip while it is still warm!….you can add grated ginger and a spoon of honey if you wish but just the lime juice is also good.

    • Thanks for the tip with the lime juice hot drink for a cold. That sounds so soothing. I will be sure to give it a try. You are so right that the past few months have been stressful for all. We are adjusting to our new normal and having fun with the masks we wear in public. They have become another fashion accessory and it is fun to choose just the right fabric or color, the fact that it also helps keep germs, and hopefully the flu at bay is a bonus. This way the kids are more willing to wear their masks because they picked out the fabric we made them with.

  2. Hi, I totally agree with you on this nice article. It is flu season. At the beginning of this week, the first day of school, at her new school, my daughter started coughing and had a high temperature, I thought it was Corona. I took her to get tested and it came out negative, I know have an idea what it was. I don’t think it was a simple cold. Now she is feeling better and she is going back to school today. Thank you for this article.

    • While we are still in various stages of recovery from COVID-19 it makes us all uneasy about every little sniffle or cough our children or ourselves may pick up. It is important to remember that we are now at the beginning of cold and flu season. We need to educate ourselves on the symptoms of each and understand the treatment. Naturally, anyone who has diabetes is at a higher risk so should take extra precautions to remain safe and healthy. Thanks for commenting.


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