Diabetes and Cold Medications

Q. What medicines can I take for the common cold?
Paul Teller, Rochester, NY

A. Many over-the-counter (OTC) medicines for the common cold are perfectly safe to take if you have diabetes, but there are a few to avoid.
The ones that are generally considered safe to take include:

  • Antihistamines (to relieve congestion), such as diphenhydramine, chlorpheniramine, brompheniramine and loratadine
  • Cough expectorants such as guaifenesin (when the cough is productive) or cough suppressants such as dextromethorphan (for a dry, hacking cough)
  • Acetaminophen for aches, pains and fevers; do not take ibuprofen, naproxen, or aspirin

OTC medicines that may interfere with diabetes include:

  • Decongestants such as pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine can worsen diabetes control and should not be used unless your doctor allows. Instead, you can use a saline nasal spray to help break up and clear nasal congestion.
  • Ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin may cause hypoglycemia (low blood glucose) in some diabetics, although naproxen and aspirin may also cause the opposite - hyperglycemia (high blood glucose) - in some people.

Be sure to check the inactive ingredients of cough and cold medications, which may include some form of sugar or alcohol that can affect blood glucose levels. Ask your pharmacist for sugar-free and alcohol-free medicines. And be sure to consult with your physician before taking any type of medication.
Remember: If you have any questions about your medications or other issues with respect to living with diabetes, consult with your physician.