Beyond skin problems that stem from diabetic neuropathy, most people are unaware that as many as one-third of all diabetics develop a skin condition at some point in life. In fact, a number of skin conditions are not just byproducts but can be early warning signs of this disease as well, so it’s important to know what to look out for and when to speak to your doctor.
Fungal and Bacterial Infections
Anyone can suffer from a fungal or bacterial infection, however, diabetics tend to be especially susceptible. As far as fungal infections are concerned, the one that is most prevalent among people with diabetes is the yeast-like fungus Candida albicans, which produces a red rash that itches and is often surrounded by scales or blisters. These fungal infections are most commonly found between the toes, in the armpits or other moist, warm regions of the body. Other common fungal infections include athlete’s foot, ringworm and vaginal yeast infections. The most common bacterial infections afflicting diabetics are boils, eyelid styes, blisters, nail infections, carbuncles and any type of infection caused by the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus (a.k.a. “staph infections”).
If you suspect you may have a fungal or bacterial infection, consult your doctor as soon as possible, as both types require specific medications to be effectively eliminated.
Although rare, people with diabetes – especially those with neuropathy symptoms – will occasionally develop blisters on the backs of their toes, feet, hands, fingers, legs and forearms. They resemble blisters that form after being burned, but fortunately are typically painless and heal naturally after a few weeks. The only way to prevent and manage this condition is to keep blood glucose levels in the healthy, recommended range.
The healthy skin cells responsible for producing melanin (brown pigmentation) are destroyed in individuals with vitiligo, resulting in blotchy, irregular patches of skin on the face, chest, and hands. Although the exact cause of this condition remains unknown, research has found a correlation between type 1 diabetes and vitiligo, leading experts to believe it is, at its core, an autoimmune disease. While no cure exists, steroid medications and light therapy have proven effective in managing this condition.
Skin Problems Caused by Neuropathy
A common symptom of diabetes is nerve damage known as neuropathy, which can lead to a diminished or complete loss of sensation in the feet. This loss of feeling can make it difficult to notice if you injure your foot, develop a blister or any other sort of injury or skin condition. If these individuals develop open sores, such as foot ulcers, they can quickly become severely infected. This is why it’s important for those who suffer from neuropathy symptoms to remain vigilant in checking their feet daily to ensure there are no signs of injury or infection.
Diabetics who do not take the proper steps to manage their condition can develop eruptive xanthomatosis, which is characterized by hard, yellow, pea-sized skin growths outlined by a red halo. These bumps commonly develop on the backs of hands, arms, feet and buttocks, and can be very itchy. Young diabetic males with high cholesterol and triglyceride levels are at the highest risk of developing this condition. Doctors may prescribe drugs intended to lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels, but the primary treatment involves restoring blood glucose levels to the recommended range.
This condition causes the skin on the backs of the hands to become thicker, tighter and waxier in appearance than normal, and affects an estimated one-third of people with type 1 diabetes. Digital sclerosis causes the joints in the fingers to stiffen, making them difficult and sometimes uncomfortable to move. Though far less common, skin on the toes, forehead, knees, elbows and ankles can also be affected. Moisturizer can help soften and soothe the skin, but the only truly effective treatment is blood glucose management.
Disseminated Granuloma Annulare
Raised, bumpy and/or ring-shaped spots that are red, red-brown or skin-colored in appearance and typically found around the ears and fingers are the primary indicators of disseminated granuloma annulare. While some sufferers experience mild itching, this condition usually subsides on its own without treatment.
People who are severely overweight can develop acanthosis nigricans, which causes skin in/around body folds and crevices to darken, thicken and develop a velvet-like appearance. Although there is no cure, studies have found that losing significant amounts of weight can improve the appearance of skin within these areas. More often than not, this condition precedes diabetes; so if you suspect you may have acanthosis nigricans and have not been diagnosed with diabetes, consult with your doctor right away.
Effective, Compassionate Diabetes Care in Houston
St. Hope Foundation is a nonprofit community health care organization committed to providing compassionate, effective health care for greater Houston area patients diagnosed with type 1, type 2 or gestational diabetes. Our team of caring medical professionals possess a wealth of experience and state-of-the-art technologies to help effectively manage your diabetes or determine if you or someone you love is at risk of developing this condition. To learn more about diabetes care at St. Hope or to schedule an appointment, contact us online today.