During the dry, winter months, it is normal to experience dry, flaky skin. For some, this is simply an inconvenience, but for diabetics, it may be a sign of more serious issues. Nerve damage, a common side effect of diabetes, can lead to dangerous skin conditions which are in turn aggravated by the cold weather. When serious diabetic skin issues arise, urgent care is required. The American Diabetes Association (link) notes that up to a third of all diabetics will experience a diabetes related skin problem in their lifetime. Below is a list of possible dermatologic disorders that are common to diabetics followed by specific tips for avoiding these potentially dangerous conditions.
- Intense itching: Especially common in the lower legs, itching can be caused by dryness, poor circulation, yeast infections, or a combination of these. To complicate things, diabetic nerve damage often results in decreased sweating, thus robbing the skin of natural moisture. When scratched, skin may crack and become infected. For this reason, it is best to resist scratching when possible.
- Infections: Bacterial and fungal infections can be very serious. Infections are most frequently experienced on the feet, but can also occur in skin folds (for example, under arms or breasts) or even in the mouth as Thrush. If you suspect skin infection seek treatment immediately.
- Necrobiosis: Insulin-resistant diabetics may develop red/purple spot-like lesions on their lower legs and feet known at necrobiosis. The spots can get as large as four inches in diameter. This is a rare condition and typically not dangerous, unless the lesions break open which can make them prone to infection. If a lesion does rupture, seek medical help immediately.
- Digital sclerosis: Some diabetics may develop thick, tight, “waxy” skin on their hands, feet, or neck. Though not dangerous, it is uncomfortable and is best treated with moisturizer and by bringing blood glucose to normal levels.
- Acanthosis nigricans: Insulin-resistant, obese diabetics may experience acanthosis nigricans which is characterized by thickened, "velvety" skin in skin folds. There is no known cure for this condition, though losing weight will often lessen symptoms.
- Diabetic dermopathy: Brown scaly patches on the shins and legs may indicate diabetic dermopathy, the most common diabetic dermatologic condition. This ailment typically develops in older diabetics and can be an indicator of other, more serious diabetic problems. For this reason, anyone suffering diabetic dermopathy should immediately visit their physician.
- Atherosclerosis: Typically the result of high blood pressure, atherosclerosis is the narrowing of blood vessels resulting in skin thinning, especially on the legs. Since thin skin is more delicate, this can lead to skin ruptures and possible infection. Most amputations are caused by atherosclerosis complications, so skin care and medical treatment is imperative.
Many of the before-mentioned conditions can be avoided or minimized with vigilant personal care. Keep skin clean and moisturized. Make it a point to examine your skin regularly for persistent or unusual symptoms. Avoid extremely hot baths, showers, or hot tubs. Use talcum powder in skin folds to prevent excess moisture. Do not smoke as smoking has been proven to worsen many of these skin conditions. Wear comfortable diabetic footwear and orthotic inserts to protect feet from wear and tear, and use gloves when gardening or doing rugged activities. Lastly, always see a medical professional whenever you experience a skin complication that concerns you.
Please note that this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical condition, or be taken as medical advice. For more information related to your unique situation, please speak with your personal physician.
About the Author: MMAR Medical Group Inc. is a wholesale distributor of comfort footwear offering a wide selection of diabetic footwear and orthotic inserts. Please visit www.mmarmedical.com for more information.