Prevent and Treat Winter Illnesses
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Staying Healthy Through Cold and Flu Season

Preventing and receiving prompt treatment for winter illnesses is particularly important if you have diabetes. Preventative measures reduce the likelihood of you becoming ill in the first place, but if you happen to get sick, prompt treatment reduces your chances of developing serious complications like pneumonia.

Pneumonia and respiratory infections may be more serious for you due to your diabetes; your risk of developing complications is greater than if you did not have diabetes and you may stay sicker longer if you contract an illness.

Many people who have diabetes require hospitalization every winter due to complications from winter illness. Simply being in the hospital puts you at risk for being exposed to additional bacteria, some of which produce serious, hard to treat, and sometimes deadly diseases.

Impacts of Illness on Blood Sugar

Your blood sugar levels may rise while you are ill due to the stress of the illness, and you may not feel like eating while you are sick. If you have diarrhea or vomiting, you may become dehydrated, which makes monitoring blood sugar levels even more difficult.

Medications you take while you are ill may cause an increase in blood sugar readings as well. Corticosteroids, which are sometimes used to relieve inflammation and aid breathing, may cause your blood glucose levels to rise, and cough syrups contain concentrated amounts of sugar.

It’s important to stay healthy so you can properly monitor your blood sugar and manage your condition. Let’s look at some simple strategies you can use to help keep you well all winter long.

Plan Ahead for Sick Days

Most people don’t plan ahead for illness. Due to your diabetes, it is important that you do. If you become ill, you may not be able to eat your usual diet or engage in your regular exercise program. Changes in your daily activities and diet may impact your blood sugar levels. In addition, simply being sick may make your blood sugar temporarily harder to control.

Make an Appointment With Your Health Care Provider Before You Get Sick

Call your primary care provider today and make an appointment. Follow their recommendations regarding immunizations — you may need to be immunized against pneumonia and influenza. The sooner that you get immunized, the quicker your immunity will build up.

While you are meeting with your health care provider, ask for recommendations regarding over-the-counter medications you can keep on hand to relieve coughs, congestion and fevers.

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Consult with your endocrinologist if you have hard to manage diabetes, complications, or if your blood glucose levels are poorly controlled. Take steps to manage your blood sugar readings within a healthy range as this will help you to fight off winter illnesses and keep you well.

Practice Healthy Hand Hygiene

Fortunately the most effective means you can use to stay well is a habit you likely developed during childhood: washing your hands. While washing your hands with soap and water, apply friction for at least 20 seconds. Be sure to clean the areas between your fingers and rinse your hands carefully.

In public restrooms, turn off the faucet with a dry paper towel and use the warm air dryer to dry your hands. Apply hand cream as needed to ensure your hands don’t become cracked or chafed.

Always wash your hands before and after eating, whenever they get dirty, after using the restroom, after you cough or sneeze, and before preparing meals.

Antibacterial soaps should not be used on a regular basis as they may reduce your immune system’s effectiveness and may facilitate the development of antibacterial-resistant germs. However, if you are ill, have a compromised immune system, or if other family members are ill, it may be beneficial to use an antibacterial soap for a short period of time. If soap and water is not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Practice good hand washing habits and encourage family members to do the same so you will all have a healthy winter.

Use Respiratory Etiquette

Like hand washing, practicing good respiratory etiquette is a simple, but highly effective, means to prevent the spread of germs.

Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. If a tissue is unavailable, don’t cover your mouth or nose with your hand; instead, sneeze or cough into the crook of your elbow. Wash your hands or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer after you cough or sneeze.

If you are ill, stay home. Limit contact with large groups of individuals if colds or flu are rampant in your area. Take advantage of the sanitizing wipes many grocery stores offer to wipe down carts.

Limit Contact With Germs

Keep your environment clean and clutter-free. Use a solution of one teaspoon of bleach per gallon of water to disinfect hard surfaces.

Products containing natural essential oils are potent antibacterial agents too. Spray surfaces that are susceptible to mold or mildew regularly with antibacterial sprays after careful cleansing.

What to Do If You Become Ill

If your preventative measures fail and you become ill, there are important steps you can take to help you to recover faster:

  • Continue to take your diabetes medications. Doses may need to be modified, so check without endocrinologist for instructions.
  • Maintain your diet as close to normal as possible. Eating unhealthy foods will not help your diabetes or your illness.
  • Don’t exercise if you have a respiratory illness without consulting your health care provider first. If you do, you have an increased risk of developing pneumonia and other complications.
  • Consume plenty of sugar- and caffeine-free liquids every hour. This will help you feel better and prevent dehydration, particularly if fever, vomiting or diarrhea are present.
  • Monitor your blood glucose levels more frequently than you normally do. Follow your health care provider’s recommendations for treating elevated blood sugar levels while you are ill.
  • Monitor your temperature. Report the presence of fever to your health care provider.

When to Call Your Health Care Provider

Call your health care provider if:

  • You vomit more than one time
  • Your blood sugar level is very high or very low
  • You believe you have more than a common cold or mild sore throat
  • You have five episodes of diarrhea in a six-hour period
  • You are very fatigued

Seek emergency medical attention if you experience difficulty breathing, changes in your mental status, or if you believe you may be seriously ill. If your diabetes is severe, you need to notify your health care provider at the first sign of illness.

It is better to be safe than sorry when it comes to diabetes and illness — don’t wait it out to see if you start to feel better.