Diabetic blisters are a common complication of diabetes, also called diabetes mellitus, that can occur anywhere on your body, but are most commonly found on the feet.
There are several types of diabetic blisters and we will detail what they look like and how to treat them.
If you have diabetic blisters, you may need to seek medical attention as they can lead to other serious complications.
In this article, we will discuss the different types of diabetic blisters, their symptoms and causes, and the various treatments available.
What are diabetic blisters?
Diabetic blisters, also known as diabetic bullae or bullosis diabeticorum, are a type of skin lesion that can occur if you have diabetes.
Most often they appear if you do not manage your diabetes properly over a long period of time although that is not always the case.
Diabetic blisters can occur on your arms, fingers, toes, palms, soles of your feet, and top of your foot. These blisters are rare and occur only in .5% of people in both type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes, although they occur in men more frequently than women.
If you have diabetic blisters, they will look like blisters from a burn, are usually painless, and heal within a few weeks.
What are the symptoms of diabetic blisters?
The symptoms of diabetic blisters include the formation of a blister on the skin that is filled with clear fluid on your fingers, toes, palms, arms, soles of your feet, and top of your foot.
These blisters can be large, up to six inches in diameter, or small and usually occur in clusters.
They are different from regular blisters because they are often painless, heal within a few weeks without scarring, and lack any redness in the skin surrounding the blister.
Diabetic blisters may take a more irregular shape than other blisters and they can cause itchy skin even though there is no pain.
What are the causes of diabetic blisters?
The exact cause of diabetic blisters is unknown but it is thought to be related to diabetic neuropathy, or damage to the nerves from diabetes which can cause changes in the skin that make it more susceptible to injury and blistering.
If you have diabetic neuropathy, you may have a loss of feeling or numbness in your extremities, become extra sensitive in those areas, have foot problems, and feel a tingling or burning sensation.
It is also thought that diabetic blisters may be caused by an autoimmune reaction where the body attacks its own tissue although more research is needed.
Other risk factors that may play a role in the development of diabetic blisters include:
- Ill-fitting shoes or shoes that do not fit properly
- Candida albicans, which is a fungal infection caused by a type of yeast
- Trauma or injury
- Poor circulation or poor blood flow
- Peripheral artery disease
- Not managing your blood glucose levels
- Being male as you are twice as likely to develop diabetic blisters
- Sensitivity to UV light
What other complications are caused by diabetic blisters?
If diabetic blisters are not treated properly, they can lead to diabetic foot ulcers which are a serious complication of diabetes.
Diabetic foot ulcers occur when your blister breaks open and an open sore (ulcer) develops, which is called ulceration. If left untreated, these ulcers can become infected and lead to gangrene.
Gangrene is the death of tissue due to a lack of blood supply and can occur in a diabetic foot ulcer if your ulcer becomes infected and spreads.
If gangrene develops, it may require amputation of your affected limb. Other complications of diabetes mellitus include:
- Patches of yellow, brown, or red skin
- Thickened skin which can also lead to waxy skin
- Secondary infection
- Slow wound healing
- Dry skin or dead skin
- Skin tags, which typically develop in moist folds of skin
- Shin spots
- Eruptive xanthomatosis, which are small, red bumps that look like waxy pimples
- Raised red or yellow spots on the skin that could be a sign of necrobiosis lipoidica diabeticorum which is the degeneration and death of your skin
- Xanthelasma, which is yellow scaly patches of cholesterol around your eyes
- Acanthosis nigricans, which can cause dark, brown patches of discolored skin that feel velvety
When do I need to see a doctor?
You need to see your doctor or healthcare provider if you develop any new skin lesions or changes in your skin as diabetic blisters can be a sign of diabetes.
You also need to see your doctor if you have diabetic blisters that are causing pain and are not healing properly as most diabetic blisters will heal on their own in a few weeks.
If the blister becomes swollen or infected, or if you experience redness around the blister, a fever, or heat radiating from the blister please seek medical attention.
Your doctor will take a medical history and perform a physical examination and they may also order blood tests, a skin biopsy, or other tests to rule out other conditions.
What are the treatments for diabetic blisters?
When you have diabetic blisters they will typically heal on their own within two to five weeks.
Your doctor may want to drain the blisters of their fluid, being mindful to keep the skin on top intact to help prevent infection. Bandaging the blister will also help prevent it from bursting on its own.
An over-the-counter topical antibiotic cream may also be used to help the healing process and prevent the risk of infection and in some cases of severe itching, your doctor may prescribe a steroid cream.
If you have itchy skin from the blister, saline compresses may help reduce it.
Can I prevent diabetic blisters?
You can help prevent diabetic blisters by taking care of your skin and keeping your blood sugar levels under control.
Diabetic neuropathy can be prevented by managing your diabetes with diet, physical activity, and medication as well as quitting smoking.
Always practice proper foot care by wearing shoes that fit properly and do not rub or chafe your feet and wear gloves on your hands if you will be doing work that may cause blisters or calluses.
Any new shoes need to be broken in slowly to prevent any new blisters from forming too.
Taking care of any cuts or scrapes on your feet and legs is also important as diabetic blisters are more likely to develop in these areas and this will help prevent any fungal or bacterial infections.
Wearing socks that do not have seams can also help prevent diabetic blisters.
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- Comfort in Every Step – Our unique non-binding and non-chafing cuff design prevents socks from slipping down. Our socks feature light support and cushioned padding that has been clinically shown to reduce pain, blisters, moisture, and pressures.
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Examining your skin regularly can help you notice any condition immediately before it gets worse.
If you experience any other skin conditions, please see your doctor, podiatrist, or dermatologist for treatment and to prevent them from getting worse.
Lastly, wearing sunscreen anytime you are in the sun is great for your overall skin health and can also be helpful in preventing diabetic blisters.
Diabetic blisters are a type of skin ulcer that can occur if you have diabetes. They are usually not painful, look similar to a burn blister, and may take several weeks to heal on their own.
Complications from diabetic blisters can include infection, gangrene, ulceration, and dry skin among many other skin disorders.
Treatment typically involves bandaging it to prevent it from bursting although your doctor may choose to drain the blister and treat it with a topical steroid or antibiotic.
Prevention of diabetic blisters includes managing diabetes, taking care of your skin, and wearing proper shoes and gloves while wearing sunscreen and examining your skin regularly can also help in the prevention of diabetic blisters.
If you have diabetic blisters or any other changes in your skin and have more questions, please see your doctor or health care provider to rule out any other conditions and to prevent diabetic blisters from getting worse.
References and Sources:
American Diabetes Association
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Diabetic.org is devoted to producing expert and accurate articles and information for our readers by hiring experts, journalists, medical professionals, and our growing Diabetic.org community. We encourage you to read more about our content, editing, and fact checking methods here. This was fact checked by Jacqueline Hensler and medically reviewed by Dr. Angel Rivera.
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