What Kind of Cold Medicine Can Diabetics Take?

Last Editorial Review: 6/5/2017

Ask the experts

My mother just found out she has diabetes. What can she take for a cough or cold, since most of the medicines have a lot of sugar?

Doctor's response

There are a few things I'd like to mention before I get straight to your answer. If your mother's cough is accompanied by other symptoms, such as fever, chills, sore throat, or other systemic symptoms, she should be assessed by a physician. Likewise, is she is coughing up phlegm (sputum) that is thick, green, otherwise has color, or is excessive in amount, she should be seen by a doctor. In addition, if she identifies triggers, such as dander, or pollen, this may be more than a simple cough, and should be investigated. Finally, it is common sense that she and anyone with diabetes (or without diabetes, for that matter) should not smoke.

There are over-the-counter remedies available without sugar, and if in doubt, your pharmacist should be able to point you in the right direction. In particular, Benylin Adult is sugar and alcohol free, and provides some relief from a non-productive (dry) cough. This should not be used in conjunction with MAOIs, in pregnancy or in nursing mothers. The active ingredient in this formula is Dextromethorphan, and it is PPA (phenylpropanolamine) free. Another possibility is Robitussin CF. This preparation has been re-formulated to be PPA free, and now contains pseudoephedrine instead. The other active ingredient is dextromethorphan, and together, this preparation helps to suppress cough and also helps to expectorate (which means it makes the bringing up of phlegm easier). Robitussin CF is sugar free and alcohol free. It should be used with caution in patients with high blood pressure or heart disease, and should be avoided in patients on MAOIs. This medication is not recommended for pregnant or nursing mothers.

There are other stronger medications available, but these should be taken on the advice of a physician after a full assessment. It there is no improvement in symptoms within 5 days, your mother should be seen by her primary doctor for further evaluation.

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Medically reviewed by John A. Daller, MD; American Board of Surgery with subspecialty certification in surgical critical care


"Cough and Cold Medicines"
U.S. National Library of Medicine