Diabetes can affect every part of the body, including the skin.

Many diabetic skin problems occur when glucose (blood sugar) levels are too high. High glucose (hyperglycemia) causes fluid loss because the body turns water into urine in an attempt to rid the body of the excess glucose.

People with diabetes who develop skin conditions are advised to seek medical treatment. This is particularly true if the condition causes itchiness and chronic scratching, which can lead to infection and cause complications.

People with diabetes can take precautions to ward off skin problems. Controlling glucose levels is the primary means of preventing skin from drying or becoming infected with bacteria. Patients can also take other steps, such as using a humidifier to keep air moist in the winter or keeping skin clean and moisturized.

As many as one third of people with diabetes will have a skin disorder caused or affected by diabetes at some time in their lives. In fact, such problems are sometimes the first sign that a person has diabetes. Luckily, most skin conditions can be prevented or easily treated if caught early.

Diabetes can hurt your skin

If your blood glucose is high, your body loses fluid. With less fluid in your body, your skin can get dry. Dry skin can be itchy, causing you to scratch and make it sore. Also, dry skin can crack. Cracks allow germs to enter and cause infection. If your blood glucose is high, it feeds germs and makes infections worse. Skin can get dry on your legs, feet, elbows, and other places on your body.

In the most severe cases, skin suppleness decreases and the skin cracks, leaving visible patches of erythema (redness or inflammation caused by dilation and congestion of the capillaries). Patients who scratch or rub the skin may cause these symptoms to become worse, or may trigger an infection of the skin.

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Dry skin can be present year-round but is most likely in the winter. Colder, drier air outdoors and drier air indoors (cause by indoor heating) can exacerbate symptoms. In addition, various soaps and detergents and excessive exposure to hot water can leech the natural oils from the skin, causing it to dehydrate.

In some cases, medications may be necessary to treat a skin condition and to keep it from progressing. Skin ointments used to treat dry skin come in different forms and include:

  • Emollients
  • Urea-based products
  • Corticosteroids
  • Antibiotic creams

The National Skin Care Institute advises people with diabetes that regular use of oil-based products can reduce the skin’s creation of natural oils. It recommends shielding lotions, which protect the skin from loss of moisture, draw additional moisture from the air, protect against irritants and are not lost during bathing.

Treatment and prevention of skin conditions

Because skin conditions have such major consequences for people with diabetes, it is important to take preventative measures that will reduce the likelihood of suffering from dry skin or infections. To help keep skin healthy, people with diabetes are advised.

Keep diabetes well-managed. High levels of glucose (blood sugar) tend to cause dry skin and prevent the body from keeping bacteria at bay. This hyperglycemia leaves the people with diabetes at greater risk of infection. High glucose reduces the body’s ability to fight bacteria.

Keep skin clean and moisturized. Patients can use talcum powder where skin touches skin, such as in the armpits and groin.

Keep baths and showers warm or lukewarm. This will help prevent skin from drying out. Bubble baths are not recommended. To keep skin from drying out, patients can use moisturizing soaps and oil-in-water skin creams.

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Treat minor cuts immediately with soap and water. Cover minor cuts with sterile gauze. Patients should see their physician promptly if they suffer a major cut, burn or infection. Take good care of the feet. Patients should check their feet every day for dry and cracked areas, sores and cuts. They should wear broad, flat shoes that fit well and check their shoes for foreign objects before wearing them.

Diabetes Skin Infections

Bacterial infections :- Bacterial infections are more commonly seen in people with diabetes than in normal individuals. Styes – Infection of glands and eyelids, Boils and hair follicles infections, skin and tissue are affected by carbuncles. These infections are spread by few bacterial germs but the most common is Staphylococcus bacteria.

Fungal infections :- Candida-albicans is the yeast-like fungus, responsible for red sore skin with frequent sense of itching and developing into blisters and scales. These patchy infections usually appear at skin folding, where moisture is persisting for longer period, like armpits and groin, under the foreskin, under breast, finger and toes-nail (onychomycosis), in the mouth (thrush), in the vagina etc. Some of the known fungal infections are athlete’s foot, ring worms and jock itch.

Itching :- Itching may result from poor blood circulation, dry skin, or any kind of bacterial and viral infection, mostly observed in lower extremities. Wiping your body till completely dry and using good moisturizing agent are the suggestive steps to manage simple itching.

Diabetic Dermopathy
:- Dermopathy shows skin changes occurring in diabetics due to affected blood vessels (i.e. oval to circular), slightly indented dry brown to purple and scaly patches. When zinc doses are administered for several weeks it appears to help the lesions resolve over several months, especially when combined with near normal blood sugars.

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Necrobiosis Lipoidica Diabeticorum :- Necrobiosis Lipodica Diabecicorum (NLD) seems similar to dermopathy, but it is more worst than the latter, as it penetrates deeply into the skin, making the spots red with a well defined purple line. See your doctor at right time or else it may crack or break.

Xanthomatosis, Sclerosis and Diabetic blisters :- High blood sugar aggravates these conditions; xanthomatosis is slight yellowish pea like pigmentation in feet, arms, legs, hands, buttocks etc. In sclerosis, skin of toe, forehead, hands becomes thick and waxy, and stiffness in the joints is observed. Sometimes painless diabetic blisters erupt in the fingers, toes, hands, forehands and feet look like burned sores. These are commonly seen in overweight, type 1 diabetic, and revert back to normal as soon as blood sugar is controlled out.

Disseminated Granuloma Annulare :- Sharp well define ring or arc shape raised area of skin is seen, then it is nothing but disseminated granuloma annulare. The common body parts where it can be seen are on the fingers or ears.

Acanthosis nigricans :- This is the condition, in which brown tanned patches appear in different parts of the body like neck, armpits and groin, hands, elbow and knees. This is usually seen in the people with overweight; especially women are more likely to be caught with this.

Allergic Reactions :- Visible allergic reaction in the area of skin is examined when insulin is injected and, it may develop rashes.