Stay Sniffle-Free With Diabetes

Health pros share their tips for avoiding colds or flu and staying well with diabetes.

Nuna Alberts

No one wants to be laid up with the sniffles or, worse, the flu. But when you have diabetes, a winter bug is even more of a hassle—it means monitoring your blood sugar more often, checking your urine for ketones and making sure any meds you take are sugar-free. That said, you’ll want to steer clear of germs altogether. Of course, you know washing your hands frequently and getting a flu vaccine are your first lines of defense. But why stop there? Read on for the scoop on staying healthy.

Keep your distance
If you’re not sure how to eyeball six to 10 feet, use a tape measure or yardstick to help you figure it out, says Philip M. Tierno, PhD, clinical professor of microbiology and pathology at New York University’s Langone Medical Center. “That’s the ideal distance I always keep between myself and anyone who has signs of being sick,” he says. This will keep you outside the immediate spray of their germs and outside that person’s ‘touch zone.’ And 80% of all infectious disease is transmitted by touch.

Use a humidifier
As someone whose job involves keeping a hospital germ-free, Ted Myatt, ScD, director of Partners Institutional Biosafety Committee at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, was curious as to why we’re so vulnerable to the flu in winter. What his team discovered is that influenza thrives in low humidity, which is common in cold weather. And that’s great news because it means you can lessen your risk simply by doing what Dr. Myatt does: running a cool mist humidifier. “It’s much tougher for influenza to survive when the relative humidity is between 40% and 60%, which happens to be the level that’s most comfortable for humans,” he says.

Avoid smoke
“It’s well-known that smoking damages the linings of the nose and throat, which not only offer barrier protection but also have a layer of fine hairs, called cilia, that sweep bacteria, viruses and irritants from your respiratory tract,” says Lisa Schrader, MPH, director of student health services at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro. That’s one reason why smokers tend to have more frequent and worse colds than nonsmokers (another is that many have chronic irritative bronchitis). “But even exposure to secondhand smoke can paralyze cilia, and if that happens and you encounter a cold or flu virus at the same time, it is more likely to get past that biological defense line.”

Catch your Zzzs
“You need to sleep at least eight hours to enter the last REM sleep stage, which is when your stem cells are active in the cellular repair that optimizes your immune system,” advises Dr. Tierno. “And a well-tuned immune system is crucial for defending against the cold virus.”

April 2013