Nonprescription medicines and people with diabetes

Many nonprescription medicines can affect the blood sugar level of people with diabetes. Some should be used with caution and some should be avoided. Follow all instructions on the label. If you give medicine to your baby, follow your doctor’s advice about what amount to give. When you have a minor illness (such as a cold or the flu) and need a nonprescription medicine, talk with your doctor or pharmacist before buying one.

The following medicines often use artificial sweeteners instead of sugar to improve taste or do not contain ingredients that increase blood sugar in other ways.

  • Sugar-free cough and cold medicines, including Anaplex HD Syrup, Atuss EX syrup, Dexafed syrup, Entuss-D and expectorant, Guiatussin DAC Syrup, Hycomine, Ornade, Robitussin AC and sugar-free cough drops, Robitussin DAC, Tussafed, Tussi-Organidin NR, and Vicks 44M.
  • Decongestant nasal sprays, including Afrin and Neo-Synephrine. All other types increase blood sugar.
  • Fever reducers/pain relievers, which should be aspirin-free, especially if they are being given to a child or teenager. Aspirin can lower your blood sugar. Do not give aspirin to anyone under age 20 because of the risk of Reye syndrome, a rare but serious illness.
  • Medicines used to treat diarrhea, including sugar-free Pepto-Bismol and Kaopectate. If your child or teen gets chickenpox or flu, do not treat the symptoms with over-the-counter medicines that contain bismuth subsalicylate (such as Pepto-Bismol and Kaopectate). If your child has taken this kind of medicine and he or she has changes in behavior with nausea and vomiting, call your doctor. These symptoms could be an early sign of Reye syndrome, a rare but serious illness. Ask your doctor if your child younger than 12 should take these medicines.
  • Laxatives, including sugar-free Cologel, Fleet Phospho-Soda, Haley's M-O, and Phillips' Milk of Magnesia. Metamucil sugar-free is a bulking agent that comes in plain or lemon-lime flavors. Enemas and suppositories used for constipation will not affect blood sugar levels.
  • Sugar-free vitamins, including Poly-Vi-Sol, Theragran Liquid, Tri-Vi-Sol Drops, and Vi-Daylin drops.
  • Anti-nausea/vomiting or motion sickness/dizziness drugs, including Dramamine.

Don't give cough and cold medicines to a child younger than 2 unless you've checked with the doctor first. If your child’s doctor tells you to give the medicine, be sure to follow what he or she tells you to do. Using saline drops or a humidifier may help thick or dried mucus to drain. You can also use a suction bulb to gently remove mucus from your baby's nose. These are safer ways to treat a stuffy nose.

Last Updated: December 3, 2008

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