When you have diabetes simple things such as skin care can’t be taken for granted. The disease affects every part of your body including your skin and can be very dangerous if you are not aware of and take precautions with your daily routines to avoid complications.
What skin problems do diabetics have?
There are two types of skin disorders common to diabetics.
- Generic Skin Conditions/Disorders: These types of skin conditions are not a result of the disease but occur more frequently in people with high blood sugar. These include fungal and bacterial infections. Anyone can get them but if you have diabetes they present more often and with greater risk to your health.
- Diabetes Related Skin Diseases: These are the types of skin problems that are directly caused by your diabetes and do not develop in normal, healthy individuals.
Generic Skin Conditions/Disorders Associated With Diabetes
The main reason these types of skin conditions are so much more problematic for diabetics is because the organisms feed off of sugars. With your increased blood sugar levels, your skin is the perfect breeding ground and the bacteria or fungus can flourish and multiply at a more rapid rate than on a non-diabetic subject.
Add to that the fact that most diabetics have decreased nerve sensation and impaired healing and you can see how something as simple as a stubbed toe can quickly become a health risk. Often the individual does not even feel the injury occur or the worsening of the infection until the infection is quite advanced.
- Bacterial Infections. Diabetics are more prone to having conditions such as styes (infection in the glands of the eyes), boils, carbuncles (similar to boils but in the deeper tissues), folliculitis (infection in the hair follicles) and staph infections in minor cuts and scrapes.
- Fungal infections. Jock itch, athlete’s foot, nail fungus on hands and feet, vaginal yeast infections and ring worm are all very common in people with diabetes. Many of the infections occur in the folds of the skin where it is typically warm and moist and this condition is referred to as intertrigo.
Diabetes Related Skin Diseases
- Diabetic Dermopathy. These are small oval or roundish shaped dark patches on the skin that are similar in appearance to age spots. They are slightly raised or scaly and most often occur on the front of the lower legs. Both legs may not be equally affected. These spots are not itchy or painful and are not open wounds. They do not require medical treatment.
- Necrobiosis Lipoidica Diabeticorum (NDL). NDL is similar to diabetic Dermopathy in appearance but the spots are generally larger and deeper and often become painful and itchy. Because they itch they may break open. If this happens, you should see your doctor for treatment to prevent infection.
- Atherosclerosis Induced Changes. While atherosclerosis is not a skin condition but rather a vascular or circulatory disease of thickening in the arteries more common in individuals with diabetes, the resultant impairment to your circulation can be visible on your skin. The skin on your lower legs may become hairless and shiny; your toenails may thicken and discolor. You may notice pain in your calves when you walk or exercise. If you notice any of these symptoms you should tell your doctor. The symptoms are the result of lack of oxygen due to impaired blood flow to your lower extremities. In extreme cases, amputation is necessary so do not let this one go untreated.
- Diabetic Blisters. This sometimes happens when your diabetes is out of control. Blisters may erupt on the hands, feet, forearms and legs. They often heal by themselves within a few weeks and the skin problem itself does not need treatment unless infection is present. You do, however need treatment to get your blood sugar back to safer levels.
- Acanthosis Nigricans. This condition happens most often in people who are very obese. Patches of skin, usually in the folds, become darkened, raised and thickened. This usually is seen in the armpits, groin and folds of the neck but can also appear on the arms and the backs of the legs. Creams may be helpful to improve the appearance but the best treatment is to lose weight.
- Gangrene. Gangrene happens when an infection is unnoticed and untreated or if it resists treatment or when lack of circulation becomes so severe that oxygen to the lower extremities is cut off. When this happens, the effected skin begins to die and turn black. Amputation is the only treatment to prevent the gangrene from spreading. Many diabetics who do not practice proper foot care are at risk of losing limbs.
Can people with Diabetes Mellitus prevent skin problems?
Yes, if you take steps to practice good skin care and keep your blood sugar at safe levels you may never develop any of the diabetic-related complications listed above.
5 Tips You Should Know to Take Care of Diabetic Skin Problems
- The most obvious is to follow a strict diet and check your blood sugar levels with a glucose monitor on a regular basis to ensure your diabetes remains under control. The majority of skin diseases are directly related to the amount of glucose in your blood.
- Look after your feet. Make sure your shoes fit properly. Wearing a pair of ill-fitting shoes for even one day can have disastrous results for diabetics. A simple blister may advance to gangrene if you are not careful. Never walk around barefoot. Always wear shoes AND loose fitting socks. Your feet are the most vulnerable to injuries because of the poor circulation and lack of sensation that is associated with diabetes. Make sure the cuffs of your socks are not restricting in any way. Diabetic socks are available that do not have the same elasticity in the cuffs as normal socks. Be particularly careful when cutting toenails. Many diabetics will visit a foot care specialist for this purpose.
- Keep your skin clean and dry. After bathing make sure you thoroughly dry the folds of your skin and between fingers and toes to prevent fungal infections.
- Use a moisturizing cream to help prevent dry itchy skin. Ask your doctor to recommend one if you cannot find one that does the trick for you. Scratching can lead to open skin wounds so you need to minimize your risks.
- This is probably the most important factor. Regularly inspect your skin for any signs of damage. Catching an injury or skin disorder early can make all the difference in the outcome. Make it a habit to check over every square inch of your body after your daily shower or before you get into bed every night. Pay special attention to known problem areas such as your feet.
If you have any concerns or notice any changes, no matter how minor you may think they are, visit your doctor. For diabetics, an ounce of prevention is definitely worth a pound of cure.