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Can a Cold or Flu Affect Your Blood Sugar Levels?

July 15, 2022
Written by
Team NutriSense

Most people are quite familiar with the typical symptoms of the common cold or the flu, but did you know that being sick can affect your blood sugar levels? 

Most adults have an average of two to three colds per year, and roughly three to 11 percent of people get the flu every flu season. When you’re sick, your body releases stress hormones glucocorticoids, catecholamines, and pro-inflammatory cytokines  to fight the infection. These hormones can raise your blood sugar, and your body may struggle to make enough insulin in response. 

Whether or not you have diabetes, it’s important to be aware of how these common infections can affect your blood sugar as keeping your glucose levels stable can help you prevent potential complications and help your body to fight the illness more effectively..

Let’s take a deeper look at these common conditions and what they can do to your blood sugar levels.

What Causes the Common Cold?

someone coughing

The common cold is a contagious upper respiratory infection caused by a virus. Many types of virus can cause the common cold, but most are caused by rhinoviruses

A cold virus gets into your body through your mouth, nose, or eyes, and is spread through droplets in the air when a sick person coughs, sneezes, or talks, and through hand-to-hand contact with contaminated objects or people who are sick. 

Symptoms of the common cold include:

  • Runny nose
  • Congestion
  • Sore throat
  • Coughing or sneezing
  • Mild body aches and/or headache
  • Low-grade fever

While a cold tends to be mild, some more severe complications can arise. A cold can lead to other infections, such as ear or sinus infections, strep throat, or pneumonia. 

Visit your doctor if your symptoms don’t improve or get worse, or you develop more serious symptoms like shortness of breath, wheezing, a fever higher than 103 fahrenheit, or severe headache or throat or sinus pain.

How is the Flu Different from the Common Cold?

someone sneezing

The flu is also a contagious upper respiratory infection, and while its symptoms are similar to the cold, they are generally more severe and appear more abruptly. 

The flu is caused by the influenza virus, and unlike the common cold, it can sometimes be prevented with a vaccine known as the flu shot. 

Symptoms of the flu can include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Sore throat
  • Coughing
  • Runny nose
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Body aches
  • Vomiting or diarrhea 

More serious complications can occur, such as sinus or ear infections, pneumonia, and even inflammation of the heart, brain, or muscle tissue. 

People who are aged 65 or older, children aged 5 or younger (but especially children aged 2 or younger), pregnant people, and people of any age with chronic medical conditions like diabetes, heart disease, or asthma, are all at higher risk of developing serious flu complications.

If your symptoms don’t improve or worsen, or if you are at higher risk of developing serious complications, visit your doctor. You may be treated with antivirals or other flu medications to help get symptoms under control. 

How Does the Cold or Flu Affect Individuals With Diabetes?

someone sipping a hot tea

In most cases, individuals with type 1 diabetes don’t make insulin, and people with type 2 diabetes aren’t able to properly use the insulin their body does make. Because insulin is required for the body to turn blood sugar into energy, it’s crucial for people with diabetes to monitor their blood sugar and take steps to keep it at their target levels. 

Being sick with a cold or the flu can cause the body’s blood sugar levels to rise, so it’s important for people with diabetes to be extra mindful of their diabetes management during periods of illness. 

Diabetic Ketoacidosis

Unchecked blood sugar levels can have severe effects when you have diabetes. When your blood sugar rises and your body doesn’t have enough insulin to process it, it starts to break down fat to use as energy, which produces ketones. 

Too many ketones in your blood can cause diabetic ketoacidosis, or DKA, which can be life-threatening. In the early stages, DKA can make you thirstier than usual and urinate more than usual, but more severe symptoms can emerge if left untreated, such as:

  • Dry mouth
  • Fast, deep breathing
  • Muscle stiffness or pain
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Fruity-smelling breath
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Stomach pain. 

When you have diabetes and are sick, or your blood sugar is 240 mg/dL or above, you can use an over-the-counter ketone test kit to check the ketone levels in your urine. 

If your ketone levels are high, or you are experiencing any symptoms of DKA, call your doctor or go to the emergency room immediately as this condition needs to be treated right away. 

How to Manage Your Blood Sugar When Sick

a device for monitoring glucose

Anyone trying to optimize their health can benefit from monitoring glucose levels—you don’t have to have diabetes to learn about the benefits of optimizing your blood sugar response. Conditions like polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), high blood pressure, Cushing’s syndrome, side effects of prescription medication, pancreatic diseases, and surgery or trauma can all lead to high blood sugar levels, also known as hyperglycemia

Hyperglycemia can be unpleasant no matter why you are experiencing it, but there are a few things you can do to manage it during periods of illness.

Check Your Blood Sugar Often

If you’re someone with diabetes, you may choose to check your blood sugar regularly to see how your body is responding to your illness. One way to track your blood sugar is to use a continuous glucose monitor, or CGM, which is a small, painless device that attaches to your arm. 

If you have diabetes and are worried about DKA, it is recommended that you check your blood sugar every two hours.

Be Aware Of Ingredients In Your Cold Medicine

Some over-the-counter medications contain elements that can raise your blood sugar, such as decongestants, while other medicines such as aspirin and Tylenol contain inactive ingredients that can lower your blood sugar. 

Talk to your doctor or a pharmacist to determine which medicines are safe for you to take. 

Keep Taking Your Usual Medications

When you’re sick, it’s important to keep taking your usually prescribed medication, even if you can’t eat. If you feel like you may need to adjust any diabetes medication while you’re sick, contact your healthcare provider. 

Do not adjust your medication or insulin without instruction from your doctor or healthcare professional. 

Drink Plenty Of Fluids

It’s important to drink a lot of fluids to replace any water you’ve lost because of your illness. Being sick can cause dehydration, especially if you’ve experienced diarrhea or vomiting. High blood sugar can also cause more frequent urination, which can lead to further dehydration. 

Stick to water and low-sugar drinks, such as unsweetened herbal tea. The CDC recommends drinking 4 to 6 ounces of fluids every half-hour.

Eat Regular Meals

It’s also important to try to eat regular meals, even when you are sick. Try to eat as often as you normally would, especially if you’re following a diabetes diet or a meal plan that is meant to manage your blood sugar. 

Reaching your regular daily calorie intake while continuing to consume adequate protein while sick can help make sure your body has enough energy to fight the infection. If you find it hard to keep up with your normal diet, try eating whole foods such as plain Greek yogurt, bone broth, soups or stews regularly.

If you are unsure about what to eat to manage your blood sugar while you’re sick, or if you’re having trouble eating, contact your healthcare provider for specific advice and recommendations. 

Create A Sick Day Plan

writing in a journal

If you’re someone with diabetes, it may be a good idea to have a plan in mind before you get sick so that you are well prepared to manage your blood sugar during times of illness. Talk to your healthcare team to figure out a strategy that includes:

  • How often you should check your blood sugar
  • What foods to eat while you’re sick
  • What fluids you should be drinking, and how often
  • When you should call your doctor
  • When you should check for ketones
  • Which over-the-counter medications are safe for you to take

Having this information on hand when you get sick can make your life a lot easier, and take a few hard decisions off your plate. 

Manage Your Blood Sugar Levels With NutriSense

Whether you are healthy or your body is fighting an infection, being aware of the symptoms and causes of high blood sugar levels is critical to managing your overall health. A continuous glucose monitor, or CGM, is a helpful tool that can help you maintain a blood sugar level that is in your target range.

A CGM can give you the exact data you need to take actionable steps toward a healthier lifestyle, and when you join NutriSense, you can view your data and track changes to your blood glucose levels over time through the NutriSense app. 

NutriSense’s team of registered dietitians can also help you interpret your blood glucose data, figure out an eating plan that keeps your blood sugar in check, and help you set goals that will improve your overall health .

See how NutriSense’s CGM program can help you start your journey to optimal health today. 

Click here to listen to the podcast.
Listen to the full podcast:
Can a Cold or Flu Affect Your Blood Sugar Levels?
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The Relationship Between Cholesterol and Blood Sugar
The Relationship Between Cholesterol and Blood Sugar

Cholesterol plays a very important role in the human body, contributing to the structure of the cells, helping with vitamin D synthesis, and also promoting the production of steroid and sex hormones, like cortisol, aldosterone, testosterone, and estrogen. But how exactly is cholesterol connected to blood glucose levels?

Story
11
min
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20 Questions to Ask Your CGM Provider (with Kara Collier)
20 Questions to Ask Your CGM Provider (with Kara Collier)

We sat down with Kara Collier, our co-founder and VP of Health here at NutriSense, to take a closer look at how CGMs work and what you need to know about these devices before using one.

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7
min
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Are Carbs and Sugar the Same? 
Are Carbs and Sugar the Same? 

Are carbs and sugar the same? In this post, we break down the key differences between the two and share the benefits of complex carbohydrates.

Story
9
min
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Best Recovery Breakfasts to Beat Post-Workout DOMS
Best Recovery Breakfasts to Beat Post-Workout DOMS

Read on to learn more about DOMS, how long it can last, and then pick from our list of the best breakfasts to help beat that post-workout soreness, support muscle building, and encourage fat loss.

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13
min
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7 Plant-Derived Supplements to Help Lower Blood Sugar
7 Plant-Derived Supplements to Help Lower Blood Sugar

When it comes to lowering blood sugar levels, not all supplements are created equal. From ginseng to aloe vera, here are some of the best supplements to help avoid high blood sugar and encourage blood sugar control.

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8
min
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Is Bloating After Surgery Normal?
Is Bloating After Surgery Normal?

Bloating that results from a surgery can sometimes be an unexpected part of the recovery process. Is there anything you can do to reduce bloating or prevent it from happening? And what causes this bloating anyway? Read on to find the answer to these questions and much more to help you combat your post-surgery swelling. 

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9
min
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Is Fiber a Carb? 
Is Fiber a Carb? 

Learn why fiber is classified as a carb and how to increase your intake of this health promoting nutrient.

Story
9
min
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Living with Autoimmune Conditions: Parkinson’s Disease 
Living with Autoimmune Conditions: Parkinson’s Disease 

Did you know Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disease? Read on to learn what it's like living with PD plus discover treatment options.

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10
min
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An Expert Breaks Down 11 Viral Health Trends
An Expert Breaks Down 11 Viral Health Trends

From rosemary water to dry scooping, should you be trying every new trend that hits TikTok? How can you tell which ones may help and which ones to steer clear of?

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8
min
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Does Eating Too Much Sugar Affect Your Skin?
Does Eating Too Much Sugar Affect Your Skin?

As great as sugar tastes, including too much of it in your diet can lead to certain health problems. Read on to learn more about the role sugar plays in keeping your skin healthy.

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9
min
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14 Health and Nutrition Podcasts Recommended by Dietitians
14 Health and Nutrition Podcasts Recommended by Dietitians

Read on to see which podcasts our dietitians recommend if you’re interested in learning more about nutrition and health.

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7
min
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Does Nicotine Affect Blood Glucose?
Does Nicotine Affect Blood Glucose?

Nicotine is a chemical in tobacco that can affect your health in various ways. Read our article to learn how it impacts blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity.

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9
min
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Why Everyone, Including Healthy People Should Use CGMs
Why Everyone, Including Healthy People Should Use CGMs

CGMs are now an excellent tool for anyone who wants to optimize their metabolic health. Read on to find out more about the benefits CGMs can have for healthy people!

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10
min
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Why Do People Need to Lose Weight Before Bariatric Surgery?
Why Do People Need to Lose Weight Before Bariatric Surgery?

Although bariatric surgery can be an effective way to lose weight and improve health for people who are obese, it’s a major decision. Find out what lifestyle changes you need to make before going under the knife.

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8
min
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NutriSense Dietitians Recommend: Favorite Grilling Recipes
NutriSense Dietitians Recommend: Favorite Grilling Recipes

Excited to fire up the grill this summer? Read on to learn if grilling is healthy for you plus check out the NutriSense Nutrition Team's favorite grilling recipes for the season.

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9
min
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How a Healthy Gut Improves Blood Sugar
How a Healthy Gut Improves Blood Sugar

Did you know that your gut health can impact your blood glucose levels? Explore ways to improve your gut health for optimal glucose levels.

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8
min
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Living With Autoimmune Conditions: Rheumatoid Arthritis
Living With Autoimmune Conditions: Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory autoimmune disease that can cause swelling and joint pain. Learn more about how it develops and how other health conditions affect its onset.

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10
min
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13 Best Weight Loss Apps to Consider
13 Best Weight Loss Apps to Consider

We’ve hand-picked the best weight loss apps available. Here are the thirteen best weight loss apps.

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8
min
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What is Red Light Therapy?
What is Red Light Therapy?

An emerging treatment, red light therapy promises to prevent and treat the signs of aging and other skin issues. Read on to find out more.

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9
min
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Diets People are Most Likely to Give Up On [+Tips to Stick with Them]
Diets People are Most Likely to Give Up On [+Tips to Stick with Them]

Struggling to stick with a health-promoting diet? Here’s how to make it enjoyable so you can reap the benefits.

Podcast
85
min
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Kara Collier on Optimal Health Through Blood Sugar Regulation
Kara Collier on Optimal Health Through Blood Sugar Regulation

VP of Health and co-founder of NutriSense Kara Collier discusses reaching optimal health through blood sugar regulation, what a continuous glucose monitor is, and who might benefit from using it.

Podcast
16
min
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How to Turn Your Idea into a 120 Person Team with Dan Zavorotny
How to Turn Your Idea into a 120 Person Team with Dan Zavorotny

In this episode of Zero to CEO, Jason Sherman talks to Dan Zavorotny about how to turn your idea into a 120 person team in 2.5 years.

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7
min
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A Breakdown of Body Mass Index (BMI)
A Breakdown of Body Mass Index (BMI)

Body mass index is a term you may have seen tossed around quite a bit in the health world. You may know that it’s a way to measure body fat, but with so many new tests for measuring overall fitness and health, is BMI still reliable?

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8
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Glucose-Friendly Recipes to Enjoy This Memorial Day
Glucose-Friendly Recipes to Enjoy This Memorial Day

If you're watching your glucose levels, traditional BBQ staples may not be the best choice. Here are some recipes that will help you enjoy a Memorial Day meal without a blood sugar spike.

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8
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Taking Mental Health Online: Tips & Tools for Self-Care
Taking Mental Health Online: Tips & Tools for Self-Care

Mental health has a significant impact on your overall health; here are tips, tools, and apps to improve your mental wellbeing.

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8
min
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Can You Check Your Blood Sugar at Home Without a Meter
Can You Check Your Blood Sugar at Home Without a Meter

Living with diabetes can be a challenge, especially when it comes to keeping your blood sugar levels regulated. Learn if you can check your blood sugar at home without a meter.

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10
min
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NutriSense Dietitians Recommend: Best Sunscreen for all Skin Types
NutriSense Dietitians Recommend: Best Sunscreen for all Skin Types

With summer right around the corner, it’s time to make sure you have the tools you need to protect yourself from sunburn and sun damage. But how do you choose the right one for adequate sun protection?

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8
min
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Japanese Water Therapy & Weight Loss: What’s the Deal? 
Japanese Water Therapy & Weight Loss: What’s the Deal? 

Learn how Japanese water therapy can help with weight loss, energy levels, and detoxification.