Diabetic Skin

November is National Diabetes Awareness Month and a good time to look at skin complications that can be caused by both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

Bacterial and fungal infections, as well as generalized itching, are skin problems that anyone can get but people with diabetes get them more easily. Diabetic dermopathy, necrobiosislipoidicadiabeticorum, diabetic blisters, and eruptive xanthomatosis usually occur only in people with diabetes.

Bacterial infections, including boils, carbuncles, folliculitis, styes, and infections around the nails occur more to those with diabetes. While such infections used to be life-threatening, antibiotics and better ways of managing blood sugar levels have diminished their severity.

They still need care, however, and if you have inflamed tissues which are often hot, swollen, red, and painful, call your dermatologist.

Most fungal infections for those with diabetes are caused by a yeast-like fungus. Symptoms include a moist, red itchy rash that is surrounded by scales or little blisters. This is most likely to occur under breasts, around nails, between fingers and toes, in the corners of the mouth and in the armpits.

More common fungal infections, such as jock itch, athlete’s foot, ringworm, and vaginal infections also cause itching. All of these can be treated by your dermatologist.

Unexplained itching is also common with diabetes and can be the result of a yeast infection, dry skin, or poor circulation. Ways to combat this might be to bathe less often when there is low humidity, use a mild moisturizing soap, and use skin cream.

Some Skin Conditions Directly Related to Diabetes:

Dermopathyis the term given to the harmless light brown scaly patches that are either oval or circular. They usually show up on legs and should neither hurt nor itch. They are caused by changes in the small blood vessels and there is no need for treatment.

However necrobiosislipoidicadiabeticorum (NLD) is a more rare condition that is also caused by blood vessel changes and causes spots similar to dermopathy. NLD spots are larger and deeper and often begin with a red raised spot. It can be itchy and painful, and sometimes the spots can crack. This is found more often in women with diabetes. If the spots become open sores, please see your dermatologist.

Diabetic blisters, which are sores that look like burns, usually occur in those with diabetic neuropathy (a condition that affects peripheral nerves including pain fibers). Blisters show on the backs of fingers, hands, toes, and feet. They usually heal by themselves and the only treatment is to have blood sugar levels at a controlled range.

Also caused by out of control blood sugar is eruptive xanthomatosis. This condition presents, usually in young men with type 1 diabetes, as firm, yellow, pea-like enlargements in the skin. Each pea-like bump is encircled by a red halo. They may also itch and are usually found on the backs of hands, feet, arms, legs and buttocks. They are a sign of high levels of cholesterol and fat in the blood and they disappear when blood sugar levels are managed at a normal level.

If you have any skin irritation that doesn’t clear up within a few days, or looks or feels infected, please see your dermatologist. Often it is a condition that can be treated.

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