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What Does Skin Have to Do With Anything?

Have you noticed a difference in your skin since your diabetes diagnosis? Long-term, uncontrolled high blood sugar can lead to many complications. While the most common complication of diabetes is heart disease, there are other complications that include nerve damage, changes in vision, gum disease, kidney disease and skin problems.

Our largest organ is our skin. Skin problems associated with diabetes can include dry skin, cracked skin, scaly patches, increased infections, itching, and wounds that are difficult to heal. It’s important to not only maintain a healthy blood sugar level but also take care of your skin to prevent smaller problems that can turn into larger problems.

If your blood sugar is too high over a long period of time, your body may try to flush excess sugar out of the body by making you urinate more frequently. You may also lose more fluid through the skin, especially as your skin thins with age. Losing fluids through your skin and from frequent urination may leave you dehydrated, which can dry the skin. It’s important to drink at least 8 cups of fluids per day unless your doctor tells you otherwise. Some fluids like caffeinated tea and coffee can cause you to make more trips to the bathroom, so limit those.

Diabetes can also lead to poor circulation which can cause dry skin. Dry skin can lead to itching, and scratching can break the skin and possibly introduce an infection. Diabetes can make infections more difficult to treat and in serious cases cause sepsis, where the infection causes a life-threatening reaction from the body that causes damage to tissue throughout the body. Talk to your doctor about wearing compression socks, and keep your feet elevated while sitting.

Scaly patches caused by diabetes are called diabetic dermopathy. They may appear as light brown, scaly patches, similar to sunspots. They are caused by changes in the small blood vessels. The goods news is they don’t need to be treated.

A serious complication of the skin are wounds that are difficult to heal, especially diabetic ulcers. They are caused by poor circulation and long-term high blood sugar. They are complicated by an increased risk of infection. Some diabetic ulcers can lead to amputation. Many take months or years to heal. It is best to find the wound early on, clean and care for it properly and inform your doctor if it doesn’t heal in a timely manner.

Besides managing your blood sugar to keep it within a healthy range, there are some other tasks you can complete to care for your skin. Hot showers and baths should be avoided, as they dry out the skin. You want to dry off your skin well after a shower or bath, paying special attention to areas like between your toes where moisture and infections can settle in. It’s important to moisturize your skin, but you should not place moisturizer/lotion between your toes. This encourages infections, particularly fungal infections. Moisturize your skin before it becomes dry, applying moisturizer/lotion before you go outside when the weather is cold or windy. Your skin may even benefit from using a humidifier in your home.

Checking your skin each day is important so you can avoid smaller problems turning into larger problems. You may also benefit from seeing a dermatologist, a doctor that specializes in caring for your skin. They can check for any unusual spots that may mean infection, poorly fitted shoes, allergies, cuts/cracks in the skin, circulation problems and hard to heal wounds. They can treat skin problems and give you products to treat some problems at home. If needed, they may refer you to a wound care center.

While dermatologists can diagnose and treat problems with the skin, you may also benefit from a podiatrist. Podiatrists specialize in caring for your feet. They can treat circulation problems that may cause problems with the skin. They can also trim your toenails to prevent ingrown toenails and cutting your skin that can lead to infections. They may also remove corns and calluses to prevent infection, inflammation and dry skin that make walking more difficult. Podiatrists may even recommend you see a specialist for a shoe fitting so you can be fitted for shoes that prevent discomfort, rubbing and inflammation that can lead to infections and unstable walking. If you live with diabetes, your regular doctor should be checking your feet at every appointment. You can remind them to check your feet by removing your shoes and socks before they enter the room.

Being proactive and caring for your skin before a problem can arise is the best decision you can make. It ends up skin has a lot to do with diabetes.



Megan Craley is the Health & Wellness Coordinator for York County Area Agency On Aging. She is a leader for Living Well With Diabetes, a diabetes self-management program, offered by York County Area Agency On Aging. She is also a member of the Diabetes Coalition of York County.

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