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May 28, 2001

Other Illnesses

Question from Hanover, New Hampshire, USA:

My grandson has type 1 diabetes and seems to get many colds. What can we do to improve his immune system?


In general terms, type�1 diabetes per se does not predispose to colds and flu. However, having said that, germs love sugar. So people with poorly controlled diabetes are at some increased risk for certain bacterial and yeast infections. (For example, women with uncontrolled diabetes often have increased numbers of vaginal yeast infections.) On the other hand, an illness such as a cold can “stress” a person with diabetes to have higher glucose readings.

You don’t indicate how old your grandson is, but the number of colds a child gets is generally related to exposure to other ill persons and to time of the year. (There are more colds in winter because we tend to stay in closer proximity to other ill persons.) Overall, adults in the United States normally average two to four colds per year, and children average six to eight colds per year. In one 10 year study of illness in families, young children in nursery school averaged up to nine colds for the period of September through May. Illness rates decline in older children and reach adult levels in adolescence. Boys have slightly more colds than girls until adolescence, but after that the incidence is slightly higher in women, perhaps reflecting their greater exposure to young children.

What can your grandson do to limit colds? Practice good handwashing and good hygiene (and the people around him should practice this too!). Good diet and exercise are helpful, too.

You might want to consider that perhaps he doesn’t have a cold, but rather he might have allergies or is airway is being irritated by such things as secondhand cigarette smoke, etc.