Wound Care Critical for Diabetes

Diabetes can cause a variety of symptoms and complications. Skin infections are one of them.

Because diabetes can lead to poor blood circulation, wounds of all kinds — including minor scrapes, cuts, and burns — heal slowly and can become easily infected. In addition, high blood glucose leads to high levels of sugar in body tissues. This causes bacteria to grow and infections to develop more quickly. Also, because of nerve damage in hands and feet, you may not notice a cut or break in the skin until after it becomes infected.

Skin infections can't always be prevented, but taking good care of your skin can make them less likely to occur.

Preventing cracks

Diabetes can cause the skin to be dry, itchy, and it can crack easily. To prevent skin cracks:

  • Clean and dry your skin thoroughly. Pay special attention to any cuts or areas of irritation on your feet.

  • Moisturize your skin regularly, particularly your hands and feet. This helps prevent dry skin from developing cracks in which infection can grow.

  • Check your skin regularly for dry patches and skin cracks. If you find a crack, clean and moisturize the area. Treat with antibiotic ointment and bandages, as necessary.

  • Treat blisters and calluses, which can lead to foot ulcers just as seriously and quickly as do cuts.

Treating minor cuts

Cuts and scrapes need to be treated properly because an infected wound can lead to serious complications.

Here's what to do:

  • Clean the injury. Use soap and water or an antiseptic wash applied with sterile gauze pads.

  • Apply an antibiotic ointment and cover the area with nonstick gauze pads to protect and cushion.

Know the warning signs

Any time you have a cut or scrape with any of these signs of infection, call your doctor immediately:

  • Red and swollen skin around a wound

  • Drainage or a foul odor

  • Warm skin around the wound

  • Fever higher than 100.4° F (38° C)   

  • Sweating or chills

Infections can affect blood sugar control and can quickly lead to serious complications. If you have diabetes, thoroughly check your hands and feet for cracks, cuts, or any other injuries every day. If you care for someone with diabetes, regularly check the person for skin breaks. Immediately clean and bandage, and seek appropriate care for any injuries.