At the Pharmacy: 16 Useful Items for Diabetes

Updated: Apr. 06, 2020

16 shopping tips that will help you care for and manage your diabetes.

The wonders you can find in an average pharmacy! Nerve pain in your feet? There’s a cream for that. Sunscreen? We’ll tell you how to choose. Also discover an incredibly simple product to help you figure out if your weight is really a problem.

1. Buy a pill organizer. Many people who have diabetes take eight to 12 different medications, vitamins, and other supplements. Keeping track of that many pills is difficult, as is remembering which ones you have already taken, and what still needs to be swallowed. Pick up a pill organizer that has flip-top compartments to contain all your pills for each day of the week. You’ll be able to tell at a glance which you have taken and which you have not.

Useful Diabetic Supplies
Pick up a pill organizer that has flip-top compartments to contain all your pills for each day of the week. You’ll be able to tell at a glance which you have taken and which you have not.

2. Buy several bottles or gel packs of glucose. You’ll see bottles of chewable tablets and gel tubes (they look like cake decorating tubes) on the shelves of the diabetes section of your drugstore. These products are made of glucose for treating low blood sugar. If you are particularly prone to low blood sugar episodes, it’s a good idea to have several bottles or gel packs—one for the car, your desk at work, at home, and packed in your suitcase when traveling. Throw a few tablets into a zip-close bag to carry in your purse when you are heading out for an evening, a family picnic, or other outdoor event.

3. Keep feet happy with chafe-free socks. Pharmacies often carry socks for people with nerve damage or loss of sensation in their feet. These socks fit comfortably, but not too tight, and they don’t have any seams that could cause sore spots or blisters. People with loss of sensation in their feet may not notice chafing from regular socks, and chafing could lead to blisters and infection.

4. Consider an at-home blood pressure monitor. If you struggle with high blood pressure, tracking your levels at home can help you keep track of your levels between doctor visits and maybe help you lower those levels. Home tests may even provide truer results than your doctor’s test if you’re one of those people who gets nervous in the doctor’s office. Ask the pharmacist to tell you the cuff size you need for your arm. Your readings will be wrong if the cuff size is wrong. And make sure you can read the numbers on the monitor.

Ask your doctor if you should check your cholesterol at home. Most drugstores now sell home cholesterol tests. Most are very accurate, if you use them properly (many require you to fast, which people tend to forget to do). They can be useful if you’re taking a cholesterol-lowering drug and want to see how well it, and your dietary changes, are working between doctor visits. Look for a test that measures LDL (“bad”) and HDL (“good”) cholesterol in addition to total cholesterol. Some tests also measure triglycerides, blood fats associated with a higher risk of heart disease. Talk with your doctor about the results.

6. Stash a meal for on-the-go.
Prepared snack bars and drinks for people with diabetes are big business. You may not need them at all (“real” foods are usually preferable). But if you’re someone who’s often caught without a snack at snack time or a meal at mealtime, you might want to keep a stash for emergencies. The carbohydrates they contain are digested slowly to help keep blood sugar levels steady.

7. Pick up a cloth measuring tape. This is one of the easiest ways to keep tabs on your heart health and to keep diabetes complications under control. Research shows that a waistline bigger than 35 inches for women and 40 for men is a red flag for increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke. You can also use the cloth tape to measure your ankles—if they are swollen it’s a sign that you are retaining water, and your doctor should be notified. Water retention is a side effect of some diabetes drugs.

8. Buy—and use—a good moisturizer
. High blood sugar can contribute to dry skin, which in turn can lead to cracks that can lead to infection—and then you’re in trouble. So make a commitment to using moisturizer every day or night. While you’ll see moisturizers labeled for people with diabetes, don’t feel limited to these, which often cost more. Any moisturizer that’s thick enough to stay put and that doesn’t irritate your skin will do.

9. Forgo deodorant soaps. These tend to be drying and irritating to the skin, and dry, irritated skin is more likely to crack and become vulnerable to infection. Choose instead a moisturizing soap such as Dove.

10. For pain and tingling in your feet, buy a capsaicin cream. Capsaicin, a compound found in hot peppers, relieves pain over time by running interference between nerve cells and your brain. Give them a few weeks to work. And keep the creams away from your eyes, mouth, and nose—they can burn. Even thorough hand washing can leave capsaicin residue, which can sting if you touch your eyes, so it’s a good idea to keep a pair of ­disposable gloves handy for applying the cream.

11. Choose sugar-free over-the-counter medicines when possible. Your blood sugar may already be on the high side when you’re sick, so why get unnecessary sugar from cold and cough medicines? While the sugar in these won’t affect your blood sugar much, neither will it hurt to look for sugar-free versions of cough syrups, lozenges, chewable aspirin, and decongestants in the diabetes aisle. If you don’t see the items, ask your pharmacist where they are kept.

12. Buy the most protective sunscreen. Certain diabetes drugs and blood pressure drugs make the skin more sensitive to the sun, so it’s especially important that you protect yourself. A bad sunburn can even raise your blood sugar and may take longer to heal than it would for someone else. Choose a sunscreen that has at least an SPF of 15 and look for a “broad-spectrum” brand that protects against both UVA and UVB light. These often contain ingredients such as Mexoryl, Helioplex, zinc oxide, or avobenzone (aka Parsol 1789).

13. Imagine a shot glass when you apply sunscreen. Experts say you need to use at least 2 tablespoons of sunscreen for your body to get adequate protection. That’s about a shot-glass full. Most of us use far less. So slather it on! Apply it at least half an hour before heading out into the sun to give your skin a chance to absorb it, and reapply every two hours.

14. Throw out old sunscreen.
If you’ve had a bottle that’s been lying around for several years or has been living in the glove compartment of a hot car, buy a new bottle—yours has lost strength.

15. Replace your toothbrush every three months. If the bristles are frayed or bent outward, replace more frequently. Otherwise, your brush won’t get your teeth as clean, and you’ll be transferring tons of bacteria to your mouth. Look for a brush with soft bristles so you don’t bruise your gums, and while you’re in the toothbrush aisle, pick up some floss, too—then use it.

16. Consider an electric toothbrush.
Studies show they do remove plaque better than manual brushes do.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest