Diabetes and the common cold: Nothing to sneeze at

OTCs today

As autumn approaches, so will cough and cold season. The common cold is one of the most frequent causes of acute illness in the United States.1 Patients perusing the pharmacy aisles often are overwhelmed with myriad choices of products in varying dosage forms. Pharmacists need to be prepared to assist these individuals with nonprescription and nondrug recommendations.

For patients with diabetes, several issues should be addressed in addition to selecting treatment for the common cold. These individuals may have a harder time controlling their blood glucose as a result of increased stress. When selecting a product, pharmacists should counsel these patients on how to manage their sick days.2 Patients should be reminded to take their medications as prescribed and stay consistent with eating meals even if they aren’t hungry. They also should check their blood glucose more frequently (possibly up to every 2–4 hours if they are on insulin or two to four times a day if they are on oral agents). Insulin doses may need adjustment depending on patient status; maintaining close with a health care provider and having objective data will assist with optimal management.2

One area in which pharmacists provide tremendous value is assisting patients in selecting the proper dosage form. Many products come in tablet and liquid formulations, though liquid formulations may be less desirable because of their sugar content. Pharmacists should take the time to read the label with patients to ensure the best product is selected and patients understand the exact dose. Remember that although the label may not say “sugar,” the product may list corn syrup, sucrose, sucralose, or other ingredients that can increase blood glucose levels.

Many companies now offer sugar-free formulations designed specifically for patients with diabetes. Patients also may consider using a cough drop to help with a sore throat and coughing. These products may contain sugar, so patients should be directed to the sugar-free formulations.

To help enhance visibility of items you want your patients to purchase, consider creative ways to display products. One idea is to create special endcaps or specific areas in your pharmacy for patients with diabetes. These areas can include sugar-free formulations of various products and complementary items such as hand sanitizer, facemasks, saline drops, humidifiers, and aerosol sanitizers. Patients with diabetes will appreciate that their needs are being addressed by your pharmacy.

Being attentive to your patients is the most important thing you can do as a health care provider. If you see someone browsing in the cough/cold section, take the initiative and ask if you can assist with product selection. Patients trust their pharmacist more than they do most health professionals, and they are more likely to take their pharmacist’s advice regarding self-care options.3 One study found that based on pharmacist recommendations, 25% of patients selected a different product than the one they originally intended to purchase, and 13% decided not to purchase anything.4

Pharmacists are valuable resources in assisting patients with diabetes with nonprescription cough and cold product selection and education. Although many community pharmacies are very busy, taking a few minutes to assist patients with their product selection can create a valuable patient–pharmacist relationship and improve patients’ likelihood of having a positive outcome.


Kirkpatrick GL. The common cold. Prim Care. 1996;23(4):657–75.

American Diabetes Association. When you’re sick. . Accessed August 5, 2013.

Gallup. Honesty/ethics in professions. . Accessed August 5, 2013.

Nichol MB, McCombs JS, Johnson KA, et al. The effects of consultation on over-the-counter medication purchasing decisions. Med Care. 1992;30(11):989–1003.