Uncontrolled diabetes affects different parts of your body, including your skin.
In fact, health experts recommend that diabetic people take good care of their skin, as diabetes can cause a number of skin problems. Staving off skin problems also requires good management of one’s blood sugar (glucose) levels.
Skin problems arise due to high blood sugar levels, reduced sensitivity of nerves and poor blood circulation. Also, greater loss of fluid from the body due to high blood glucose levels can cause the skin to become dry and lead to itching.
People who have diabetes also tend to get skin infections (both bacterial and fungal) that can occur on any area of the body, including between the toes, around one or more of the nails and on the scalp.
If not treated timely, even minor skin problems can lead to serious complications because diabetes slows the process of healing. This is why it is very important to learn about the common skin problems associated with diabetes. Timely diagnosis means better treatment and fewer complications.
Here are some of the common skin problems linked to diabetes.
1. Acanthosis Nigricans
This skin problem is characterized by darker skin in the creases of the neck that feels like velvet. In fact, this is one of the first signs that you may have diabetes, as it occurs due to insulin resistance.
Apart from the back of your neck, acanthosis nigricans can affect the skin on your armpits and groin. Less commonly, it affects areas like the face, inner thighs, elbows, knees and navel or belly button.
Obese people with diabetes are at a higher risk of developing this condition. Losing weight is the best way to reduce that risk.
Also, people with endocrine (glandular) abnormalities, an internal malignancy (especially stomach cancer) and kidney transplant patients can suffer from acanthosis nigricans.
2. Necrobiosis Lipoidica Diabeticorum
This is another common skin disease in people diagnosed with diabetes. It is caused by changes in the blood vessels and is very similar to diabetic dermopathy (described below).
It generally affects the lower legs, where the skin becomes raised, yellow and waxy in appearance. Over time, the lesions develop a purple border and can even cause scarring.
In severe cases, the lesions can ulcerate and become itchy and painful.
This condition may have active and dormant periods, depending upon how well you control your blood sugar level.
3. Digital Sclerosis
People suffering from Type 1 diabetes can have digital sclerosis, which means thick, tight, waxy skin that develops on the back of the hands. Also, the joints of the fingers become stiff and cause mobility problems.
Along with the skin on the back of the hands, the skin on the toes and forehead can be affected. Sometimes, the thickening skin spreads to the face, shoulders and chest.
Keeping your skin moisturized can help soften it, but controlling your blood sugar level is the only treatment for this problem.
4. Eruptive Xanthomatosis
Uncontrolled diabetes can cause eruptive xanthomatosis, which is characterized by firm, yellow, pea-like skin growths. These small bumps have a red halo around them and cause a lot of itching.
It usually occurs on the back of the hands, crook of the elbows, feet, arms and buttocks.
Apart from diabetes, people with high cholesterol and very high triglycerides (fat in the blood) are at a higher risk of developing this problem.
If you are diabetic, do your best to get your blood glucose levels down, as it is the main treatment for this problem. Once your sugar level is controlled, the skin eruptions will disappear within a few weeks.
5. Bullosis Diabeticorum
Also known as diabetic blisters, this skin problem can occur on the back of the fingers, hands, toes, feet, and sometimes on the legs or forearms. These blisters may occur alone or in patches and resemble burn blisters. However, they are not very painful.
People who have severe diabetes and diabetic neuropathy are at a higher risk of suffering from this problem.
Like any kind of blisters, diabetic blisters can cause infections if the problem is not addressed. Keeping your blood glucose level under control is the only treatment for these blisters.
6. Diabetic Dermopathy
In this type of skin condition, also known as shin spots, spots develop that create a barely noticeable depression in the skin. It happens as a result of changes in the blood vessels that supply blood to the skin.
The spots usually develop on the shins, but can also occur on the arms, thighs, trunk or other areas of the body.
Shin spots do not hurt, but rarely, they can be itchy or cause burning sensations.
As the spots typically cause no symptoms, people often mistake them for age spots. But unlike age spots, shin spots usually start to fade after 18 to 24 months. However, if your blood sugar is not controlled, the spots can remain indefinitely.
7. Disseminated Granuloma Annulare
This is another common skin problem in diabetic people. It causes raised, bumpy or ring-shaped spots that may be skin-colored, red or reddish-brown.
The spots most often develop on the fingers and ears, and may cause mild itching. In some cases, the spots can occur on the chest and abdomen. They can be isolated or numerous on the body.
Once your blood sugar level is under control, the spots usually disappear on their own without leaving scars. A topical steroid medication, such as hydrocortisone, may help.
8. Scleredema Diabeticorum
Sclerederma diabeticorum is a rare connective disorder occurring in diabetics due to poor metabolic control.
It is characterized by thickening of the skin on the upper back area and back of the neck. It can also occur on the face, neck and trunk. The hardening of the skin makes it firm with slightly red or brown “woody plaques”.
The disease usually progresses slowly over several years. With time, it tends to decrease sensitivity in the affected area and reduced motility in the neck and shoulders.
For proper diagnosis of this condition, your doctor will advise you to get a skin biopsy done.
Important Skin Care Tips for Diabetics
- The best treatment option for most diabetes-related skin conditions is managing blood sugar levels through a proper diet and any necessary lifestyle changes.
- Whether you are washing your hands or taking a shower or bath, dry yourself thoroughly. Take special care to dry the areas between your toes, under your arms and anywhere else where moisture can accumulate.
- Use a good quality moisturizing lotion to keep your skin soft and hydrated. It is best to apply a moisturizer right after you shower to help the lotion penetrate deep into the skin.
- Drink an adequate amount of water throughout the day to keep your body hydrated and your skin moist and healthy.
- Always wear loose-fitting underwear made from cotton to help allow good flow of air.
- It is best to wear comfortable socks and shoes to take care of the skin of your feet.
- Eat a healthy diet that includes more fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
- Exercise regularly. Aim for 30 minutes of cardio exercise, 5 days a week.
- Monitor your blood sugar level regularly.
- Avoid scratching dry skin, which can create lesions and allow infections to set in.
- Treat cuts and bruises immediately, no matter how small they are.
- Avoid hot baths or showers, which can dry out your skin.
- Use talcum powder to keep skin folds dry.
- Regularly check your skin thoroughly. If you notice any unusual signs, see your doctor immediately.