Many people living with diabetes also experience asthma or allergies and might be wondering what effect these conditions can have on their blood sugar. While allergies and asthma themselves do not cause blood sugars to change, if you experience any stress as a result of dealing with either of these conditions, or are taking certain medications, these could be the reason behind some unexplained changes in blood sugar. With that in mind, let’s take a look at each of these and understand the impact they can have on our diabetes.
Asthma is a chronic disease that affects your airway, the tubes that carry air in and out of your lungs. The inside walls of these tubes become sore, swollen, sensitive, and reactive to things that you are allergic to or find irritating. When your airways react to these irritants, they get narrower and your lungs get less air. This can cause wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and trouble breathing, which can become an issue especially early in the morning or at night, or when you are trying to exercise. An asthma attack occurs when the airways close and in cases of severe asthma your vital organs do not get enough oxygen. In serious enough cases, people can die from asthma attacks.
Additionally, most people with asthma also have allergies. Your body’s response to what are called allergens—proteins from common materials like house dust mites, cockroaches, and pollens—may cause the inflammation that leads to asthma symptoms. Asthma is treated with two kinds of medicines, both of which are oral steroids and can raise blood sugar levels. These medicines include quick relief medicines to stop symptoms and long-term control medicines to prevent symptoms. Studies found that the risk of needing medication to control high blood sugar increased about 34% to 64% in patients taking any dose of daily inhaled corticosteroids. So, if you have diabetes and are also taking these medications, be sure to speak with your healthcare providers about the effect they might be having on blood sugar levels.
Now let’s talk specifically about allergies. If you are experiencing any itching, sneezing, or runny nose you may need to take medication for treatment. Keep in mind that whether these medications are over the counter or prescribed by your doctor, they might have an effect on blood sugar. If you are taking an antihistamine, know that if you fall asleep and skip a meal, you may wake up with a low blood sugar. As we mentioned above, if you are taking any kind of steroids for allergies they may cause a rise in blood sugar because they cause your liver to dump out glucose into the blood stream and block the effect of insulin, which causes insulin resistance. Name brands of this kind of drug include beclomethasone (Beconase, Qvar), fluticasone (Flonase, Flovent), and triamclionolone (Nasacort AQ). Oral steroids include Medrol or Deltasone, which are prednisone.
A final word of caution: taking decongestants, cough syrup, or throat lozenges can also all cause your blood sugars to rise. Cough syrup and lozenges typically contain sugar, honey, or glucose syrup which we know will impact blood sugar, so keep an eye on the labels and choose products that have no sugar added when possible. Also be aware that these products can contain sugar alcohols, especially sorbitol, which may cause bloating and stomach cramps.
As always, it’s key to frequently check blood sugars especially when taking any of these medications. Call your doctor or diabetes educator if you are experiencing high blood sugars that won’t come back down. You might need to increase your diabetes medicine or insulin dose if this is the case. Let your healthcare provider make any adjustments they feel are necessary.
By: Lauren Szalkiewicz and LaurieAnn Scher, MS, RD, CDE