About a third of all diabetics eventually develop some form of skin complications. Oftentimes, these skin conditions can be a sign of oncoming diabetes. Type 2 diabetics are more prone to skin infections while autoimmune-related lesions occur more often in those with type 1.
Of the conditions that are treatable, most can be helped by good metabolic control. Most glucose-lowering drugs have side effects of their own, so the important thing to do is recognize your symptoms and ask your doctor or a dermatologist how to proceed. In the meantime, we’ve provided information on some common diabetic skin complications and a few ways you can treat them.
Dry or itchy skin can occur when blood glucose levels heighten, soaking the moisture from your skin. The most effective thing you can do is control high blood pressure and cholesterol, as this is the root of the problem. Other treatments include bathing less often and in cooler temperatures (hot showers and baths dry out your skin) and use very gentle, fragrance-free soap. When drying off, pat skin dry instead of rubbing. Moisturize as often as you can with products recommended for sensitive skin. SupportPlusMedical offers a selection of body washes and creams specifically designed for diabetic skin care. Perhaps most importantly, don’t scratch! This can create cracks, allowing germs to enter and leaving your skin prone to infection. Treat your largest organ with care and kindness.
Bacterial and fungal infections can happen to anyone, but they’re more common among those with diabetes. Cuts and blisters can get easily infected, as well as your cuticles – these infections happen a lot from nail salons. Some people suggest bringing your own manicure kit to a salon or asking them not to push back your cuticles. Fungal infections occur mostly in warm, moist areas like underarms and between toes. Make sure to keep extra clean and dry, especially in the summer, as these mostly occur in areas that get warm and sweaty. Though they may occur often, these are easily treatable with over-the-counter medication recommended by your doctor or prescriptions.
Digital sclerosis, or diabetic thick skin, is a condition in which your hands, fingers and/or toes become thick, tight, and waxy, and fingers may become stiff and harder to bend. Rarely, the upper back, forehead, knees, ankles, or elbows may be affected as well. This condition is more common among patients with type 1 diabetes, about a third of those with type 1 have it. Little can be done about this condition except good blood glucose control and moisturizer.
Vitiligo is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks cells that create melanin, what gives your skin color. This, too, occurs more often in people with type 1 diabetes. Since, like type 1 diabetes, vitiligo is an autoimmune disease, there is no way to prevent it. Treatments can include oral or topical medication to help pigment your skin, but make sure to consult your doctor or dermatologist first. Patients should avoid direct exposure to the sun and use high-SPF, broad-spectrum sunscreens, as the effected skin has no melanin to protect it from UV rays.
Neuropathy is a long-term complication of chronic high-blood sugar that occurs when nerves are damaged, causing pain, burning, and numbness. It often causes loss of feeling in the feet, so if you step on something and injure yourself or develop a blister, you might not find out until you see it. Alpha lipoic acid can be an effective treatment if you introduce it very early on. Neem leaf or neem leaf oil can also serve as an herb supplement to support the body’s response to inflammation. If you experience symptoms of neuropathy, consult your doctor immediately. Because you lose feeling as a result, it is a very dangerous complication of diabetes that could, in the worst case scenario, lead to bad infection or amputation.
Diabetic blisters, although rare, look like large burn blisters and appear on the backs of hands, feet, fingers and toes, sometimes on legs or forearms. They usually occur in people who have another diabetes complication. People with neuropathy, for example, are at a higher risk of getting them. The only treatment is to keep your blood glucose under control, and apply topical blister treatment if you want. Although unsightly, these blisters are one of the kinder diabetic skin complications because they’re usually painless and heal up in just a few weeks. But, like all other blisters, do not pop them! If an infection occurs, consult your doctor about antibiotics.