How to treat cold and flu symptoms if you have diabetes

Diabetes increases your risk of getting a cold or flu because it weakens your immune system. It’s harder to control your blood sugar when you’re sick.

As your body battles disease, it releases hormones that increase blood sugar and interfere with the blood sugar-lowering effects of insulin. The last thing you need to do is take cold and flu medicine to get your blood sugar levels higher.

This article looks at safe cold and flu medicines and what you should avoid.

Cold/flu medicines and diabetes

Not all cold and flu medicines are safe when you have diabetes. The trick is to understand what ingredients are in the medicines you buy and how they will affect your diabetes.

The ingredients on the label are divided into two categories: inactive ingredients and active ingredients.

  • Inactive ingredients have no medicinal value. They are usually fillers, flavors, colors, and substances that help maintain consistency.
  • The active ingredient is the drug that actually treats the symptoms.

Overdose on cold and flu medicines

Inactive ingredients and diabetes

Alcohol or sugar are non-drug ingredients that may be in the cold and flu medicine you are taking. Both alcohol and sugar raise your blood sugar levels.

They may be listed under “Inactive Ingredients” on the label. If the inactive ingredients are not listed, you may need to check the company’s website or call to ask.

If you get your medicine at a pharmacy, ask the pharmacist if it contains anything that could affect your blood sugar.


It is more difficult to control blood sugar when you are sick. Cold and flu medicines can affect your blood sugar levels. Be sure to check for inactive ingredients like sugar or alcohol.

Active ingredients and diabetes

The active ingredient is a drug. Some cold and flu medicines have only one ingredient, but many of them are combinations of several medicines.

Make sure you only take medicines that are right for your symptoms. For example, if you don’t have a cough and are sleeping well, don’t take nighttime cold and cough medicine.

Cold and flu products have some common ingredients to be aware of.

pain reliever

Pain relievers can help relieve mild body aches, sinus pain, and headaches caused by a cold or flu. These same drugs can lower fever.

Possible pain relievers for a cold or flu include:

  • Acetaminophen: In Tylenol products and many other cold/flu preparations. May be toxic to your liver and kidneys. If you have kidney complications from diabetes, talk with your healthcare provider before taking this medicine.
  • Ibuprofen: A non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). People with liver and kidney problems should use with caution. High doses may increase the blood sugar-lowering ability of insulin and diabetes medications.
  • Naproxen: a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug. Do not use it if you have severe cardiovascular (heart) disease or kidney or liver problems. High doses may increase the risk of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) with insulin and diabetes medications.

cough and congestion medication

There are several different types of medicines for cough and congestion.

  • Cough suppressants help prevent coughing.
  • Expectorants loosen phlegm so you can cough it up more easily.
  • Decongestants help clear mucus from the sinuses.

Suppressants and expectorants

  • Dextromethorphan is a cough suppressant in many cough preparations. At recommended doses, it is considered safe for people with diabetes.
  • Guaifenesin is an expectorant and is also used in many cough suppressants. It is considered safe for people with diabetes.


Common decongestants include:

  • epinephrine
  • Phenylephrine
  • pseudoephedrine

They are available in nasal sprays and some oral cold medicines. They work by drying the secretions in the nasal passages.

They may decrease the effect of insulin or oral diabetes medications and cause high blood sugar. They can also increase blood pressure. Use with caution if you have diabetes.


Antihistamines are anti-allergy medicines, but they also sometimes help relieve cold and flu symptoms.

Older antihistamines may cause low blood pressure in some people. They do not directly affect diabetes. However, people over the age of 65 may be more susceptible to side effects.

These drugs also have a sedative effect, so they may not be safe for daytime use. They include:

  • Brompheniramine
  • chlorpheniramine
  • Doxylamine
  • Diphenhydramine

They are common in combination products and single drug formulations.

Why Seniors Shouldn’t Use Diphenhydramine

Second-generation antihistamines are considered safer than older ones.they do not cause sedation And there are no warnings for diabetes. They include:

  • Allegra (fexofenadine)
  • Claritin (loratadine)
  • Zyrtec (cetirizine)

Should I take Claritin, Zyrtec or Allegra?


When you are sick, blood sugar levels are harder to control. Not all cold and flu medicines are considered safe for you.

Inactive ingredients may include sugar or alcohol. They may raise blood sugar levels.

Of the active ingredients, painkillers carry the most warnings. Decongestants might decrease the effect of diabetes medications. Cough suppressants, expectorants, and antihistamines are generally considered safe.

VigorTip words

Managing chronic conditions can be a lot of work. Beyond that, being sick makes things more complicated.

Talk to your healthcare provider before you take any cold or flu medicine. They can guide you to the person who is safest for you.

Also, ask your pharmacist to review your medicines and check for possible interactions with cold and flu medicines. That way, you know you’re doing what’s best for your overall health.

Manage and prevent diabetes complications