If you have diabetes, your regular monitoring should include regularly checking your blood glucose levels — but also checking for changes in your skin, feet, and nails.

About a third of people with diabetes will develop skin problems, such as skin sores or a leg rash. In fact, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), some skin problems can be warning signs of diabetes in those who are undiagnosed. The good news is that most skin problems with diabetes can be prevented or treated easily if they’re caught early.

Keeping proper control of your blood sugar (glucose) can prevent diabetes skin problems and many other diabetes symptoms from happening in the first place.

When diabetes affects your skin, causing skin sores or diabetes rash, it is a sign your blood sugar levels are too high.

If you notice any skin problems, it is time to talk to your doctor. Get tested for diabetes if you have yet to be diagnosed. Work with your doctor and diabetes nurse educator to learn how to control your diabetes with diet, exercise, and medications, if needed.

Additionally, see a dermatologist or your primary care provider about any diabetes skin problems. Some diabetes skin problems don’t look too serious but could lead to future complications if left untreated.

“For the most part, control of diabetes can help with related skin issues,” says Justin Ko, MD, the director and chief of medical dermatology at Stanford Health Care in Palo Alto, California. “I’m always adamant that my diabetic patients take aggressive care of their skin and health in general. For the skin, moisturization; checking feet and legs daily for any blisters, sores, and skin breaks (especially between the toes); and nail care are all extremely important. Nail and foot fungus can lead to skin cracks and breaks, allowing bacteria to enter and cause infection.”


Bacterial Skin Infections Need Immediate Treatment

a person's eye with a bacterial infection

Although anyone can get bacterial skin infections, people with diabetes are more prone to them. Typical bacterial skin problems that tend to trouble patients include eyelid styes, boils, nail infections, and carbuncles — deep infections of the skin and the tissue underneath. Usually, the area around the infection will be hot, red, painful, and swollen. Treatment with antibiotic creams or pills will usually clear up these skin problems.


Fungal Infections Are Common With Diabetes

a person with diabetes with a ringworm patch

People with diabetes are susceptible to fungal infections, especially one called Candida albicans. This yeast-like fungus creates a red, itchy rash, frequently surrounded by small blisters and scales, that is usually found in warm, moist areas like armpits or between the toes. Other fungal infections common to diabetics include ringworm, jock itch, athlete’s foot, and vaginal yeast infections. Talk to your doctor about the best medication to kill fungal skin problems.


Poor Blood Flow Results in Itchy Skin

a person with diabetes itching their arm

Itchy skin can have many causes. In people with diabetes, a yeast infection, dry skin, or poor circulation can be the root cause. When poor blood flow is the culprit, the lower legs may be the itchiest part of the body. What can you do to stop your skin from crawling? Consider bathing less often, and use mild soap when you do. Slather on some lotion to moisturize dry skin, but avoid applying it between your toes.


Vitiligo Causes Skin to Lose Color

a person with vitiligo on their face

Vitiligo is a skin problem in which the skin cells that make melanin (brown pigmentation) are destroyed, leading to irregular, blotchy patches that often occur on the hands, face, or chest. Experts now believe vitiligo is caused by an autoimmune condition, as with type 1 diabetes, and research has described a link between the two conditions. There’s no cure, but light therapy and steroids are used to manage vitiligo. If you have the condition, it’s important to wear a sunscreen of at least 30 SPF, since depigmented skin has no natural sun protection.


Diabetes Can Cause Neuropathy-Related Skin Problems

a person with diabetes with an infection on their foot

Diabetes can cause nerve damage called neuropathy, a common diabetes complication. Sometimes the damage causes a loss of sensation in the feet. If you step on something and injure your foot or develop a blister, you may not be able to feel it. An open skin sore called a foot ulcer can develop and could get infected. Take a look at your feet every day to make sure they are not injured in any way.


Diabetic Blisters May Heal on Their Own

a person with diabetes with blisters on their feet

It’s rare, but sometimes, people with diabetes erupt in blisters (bullosis diabeticorum). The blisters occur on the backs of fingers, hands, toes, feet, and sometimes on the legs or forearms. These skin sores resemble burn blisters. Having diabetic neuropathy puts you at higher risk of developing these blisters. Here’s the good news: They are usually painless and heal on their own in a few weeks. Keeping blood glucose under control is the only treatment for this diabetes skin problem.

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