Six Common Skin Conditions Associated with Diabetes
Diabetes may seem like a silent condition… However, this does not mean there is a lack of symptoms. There may be many symptoms which we may associate with aging, or gaining weight, such as blurry vision, night time urination, increased thirst, or increased rashes or blisters.
It is a very pervasive condition – and it can affect the general health of all of our systems and cell structures, especially with time and with continued high blood glucose levels.
One of those systems is our skin. Our skin is not just tissue we may scrape, and that we need to watch out for cuts – it’s also an organ. It is the largest organ in our body. It is meant to help regulate our body’s temperature, to help protect us from germs, and to help us FEEL the world around us, etc. But when our blood glucose levels are high, and just like with any other organ in our bodies, the skin will sustain consistent damage.
There are some common skin problems which have become either associated with diabetes, or more directly with high blood glucose itself, or with insulin resistance:
Have you noticed a darkening of the skin around your neck, joints, inner thighs, armpits, or under breasts? You, or a loved one, might have high levels of insulin in your system. When a person gains weight and becomes insulin resistant, they get stuck in this circle of producing more and more insulin to attempt to deal with high blood glucose in the blood stream – making them more likely to develop this condition. The skin might even appear velvety or raised to the touch, often looking like a dirty patch of skin.
Have you experienced more and more inflamed blemishes, or enlarged, infected ‘pimples,’ often requiring medical intervention? Yucky, right? Well, this is a symptom of the skin’s inability to fight off infection properly, due to high levels of blood glucose. It is important to work hard at lowering those levels, avoiding foods high in sugars, and visiting a clinician for surgical intervention, appropriate treatment and anti-bacterial medication.
Skin Blisters or Ulcers:
Diabetes affects how our skin produces collagen and stores fat, as well as how we FEEL things, and the toughness and flexibility of our skin. When there is damage to blood vessels due to weakened skin, we become more vulnerable to developing sores easily from common traumas, such as walking in uncomfortable shoes. We are even less likely to FEEL the pain of injury, so it is important that we examine our feet regularly for these. Lessened circulation to our lower extremities makes treatment and healing more challenging, and may lead to more serious complications, and even to a need for amputation.
Rashes, bumps, or grains:
There can be various reasons why these may happen – but more likely they are due to the skin simply being more sensitive to inflammation from various things like bug bites, common allergies, or where we might inject insulin. Inflammation is usually a normal thing – a common fist line of defense – but when the skin is also fighting high blood glucose, it isn’t as able to fight off infection, and needs to ramp up its defenses. Lowering blood glucose levels, and rotating our injection sites are ways to help ameliorate these issues – but we should also visit with a dermatologist or clinician to treat persistent outbreaks. Sometimes, prescription ointments are needed.
Bacterial or Fungal Infections:
Bacteria and yeast, or funguses, love to feast on excess glucose in our blood stream. Often, this is a chance for bacterial opportunistic infections, for bladder infections, and even yeast infections on our skin, or in our groin areas. It is important to keep skin as clean and dry as possible. These infections can be itchy, leave welts or rings on our skin, often with a discharge or an unpleasant odor, and can be quite uncomfortable. They will NOT go away on their own. Oral antibiotics or anti-fungal medications are required. It is easy to confuse which type of infection it might be, so see a clinician for a proper diagnosis and treatment.
Vitiligo is a condition which is more often associated with type 1 diabetes, but which may also present with other forms of diabetes, and it involves the slow destruction of the cells which produce pigment in our skin – leading to discoloration. There is no cure for this condition, but there are many ways to treat it – usually involving tattooing, or special full-coverage makeup. It is very important to use a high spf level sunscreen in order to protect the skin from the effects of the sun. If you suspect you have vitiligo, please visit a dermatologist for a proper diagnosis and medication or treatment recommendations.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of skin problems associated with diabetes and high blood glucose. And while a condition may not, per se, have been caused by it, it should go without saying that high blood glucose CAN affect how we manage and handle any health condition – including the health of our skin. Our first line of defense should always be keeping the healthiest blood glucose levels possible. But when in doubt, please visit with your medical team.
Do you live with any sleep disorders (eg. insomnia, sleep apnea, RLS) in addition to your diabetes?