Diabetic blisters are a common complication of diabetes that can lead to some serious consequences if left untreated.
The blisters often form on your feet and can be painful and debilitating while also leaving you at risk for infection.
In this article, we will answer some common questions about diabetic blisters and what causes them while discussing what diabetes is, the symptoms of diabetic blisters, and how to treat them.
We will also explore whether diabetic blisters are preventable and if there are any other diabetes-related foot conditions to be aware of so you can avoid them too.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a chronic condition that affects your body’s ability to process blood sugar called glucose.
There are two main types of diabetes and they are type 1 and type 2. Type 1 diabetes typically develops in childhood or adolescence and is caused by your immune system attacking the insulin-producing cells in your pancreas.
Insulin is a hormone that allows your cells to take in glucose for energy. Type 2 diabetes, which is the most common form of diabetes, can develop at any age although it usually is diagnosed when you are an adult.
The cause of type 2 diabetes is loss of sensitivity to insulin where your cells stop taking in glucose which causes elevated blood sugar levels.
If you have uncontrolled diabetes and do not treat it, you are at a higher risk of developing complications such as heart disease, vision loss, and diabetic blisters.
What are diabetic blisters?
Diabetic blisters are also called diabetic bullae or bullosis diabeticorum and they are large lesions with a bubble of skin filled with fluid.
They can occur on your feet, toes, or legs and usually develop in areas where there is repeated friction or rubbing although rarely they can form on your arms and hands too.
They are different from diabetic foot ulcers which are open sores that develop on your feet and can become infected which can lead to amputation.
What are the symptoms of diabetic blisters?
The most common symptom of diabetic blisters is the presence of one or more large, fluid-filled lesions on your feet, toes, or legs.
Clusters of blisters are more common and they may have a circular or irregular shape and can be as wide as six inches although blisters that big are not common.
Diabetic blisters may also be itchy although they will not hurt.
What causes diabetic blisters?
The exact cause of diabetic blisters is unknown but it is believed to be more common if you have uncontrolled diabetes.
It is also thought that diabetic blisters are caused by diabetic neuropathy which is a type of nerve damage that develops due to high blood sugar levels and can result in numbness in the affected area and not being able to feel a blister forming.
Shoes that do not fit properly can also cause blisters due to friction. Candida albicans is a fungus that causes fungal infections and can also cause you to have blisters.
If you are a man you are also more likely to develop diabetic blisters than women. Sunlight (ultraviolet light) can also cause blisters due to prolonged exposure.
Lastly, it is also thought that if you have peripheral artery disease you may be more likely to develop blisters too.
Peripheral artery disease, also called peripheral vascular disease, is a condition where your blood vessels known as arteries are narrowed or blocked due to plaque buildup which leads to poor blood flow and causes poor circulation.
When do I need to see my doctor about diabetic blisters?
If you have diabetes and develop any new lesions on your feet, toes, or legs, it is important to see your doctor right away.
If you develop any of the following common diabetic blister symptoms please seek medical care immediately.
- Redness around the blister
- A feeling of heat or warmth radiating from the blister
Diabetic blisters can quickly become infected and lead to diabetic foot ulcers.
If you have diabetic foot ulcers, you may need antibiotics to clear the wound infection or even surgery to remove the dead tissue.
In severe cases, diabetic foot ulcers can lead to amputation.
What are the treatments for diabetic blisters?
Your diabetic blisters will usually go away on their own in 2-5 weeks.
It is important that you do not intentionally puncture the blisters yourself due to the risk of infection.
When seeing your doctor, you may receive some of the following treatment options:
- Saline compresses for itching
- Bandaging the blister to avoid it from being punctured and help with the healing process
- Draining of the blister, which is called aspiration, while keeping the blister roof intact (skin above the lesion) to avoid infection
- Application of antibiotic cream or ointment before wound dressing with a bandage to prevent any bacterial growth and infection
- Steroid cream for itching
If you have diabetic blisters please see your doctor or podiatrist (foot doctor) for treatment and do not attempt to puncture them yourself as you may risk infection.
Are diabetic blisters preventable?
There are some steps that you can take to help prevent diabetic blisters and most include using proper foot care to keep your feet healthy.
First, it is important to have your diabetes under control with regular blood sugar monitoring and practicing blood sugar management by exercising regularly, eating healthy, maintaining a healthy weight, and taking any medication as prescribed by your doctor.
You need to also wear socks and comfortable shoes that fit properly and avoid shoes with tight straps or shoes that rub against your feet.
If you need to break in a pair of shoes, do it gradually and not all at once. Inspecting your feet regularly for blisters, cuts, or other foot wounds is also important, and seek medical attention right away if you do find any new lesions on your feet.
To avoid lesions on your hands, wear gloves when using equipment such as scissors, golf clubs, or gardening equipment for extended periods of time.
If you are susceptible to blisters from sunlight you need to wear sunscreen when outdoors and avoid prolonged exposure to sunlight.
You also need to schedule a regular diabetic foot exam with your doctor or podiatrist to help keep your feet healthy.
Are there other diabetes-related foot problems?
There are other foot problems caused by diabetes that are not blisters.
Charcot foot is a bone deformity condition where the bones in your feet break down due to nerve damage and loss of feeling in your feet caused by diabetic neuropathy which can cause deformities in the shape of your feet.
Diabetic foot ulcers are another common problem caused by diabetes and as previously mentioned, can lead to amputation if not treated properly.
Corns and calluses are areas of thickened skin that can form on your feet from rubbing and pressure and can sometimes lead to diabetic foot ulcers.
Hammertoes are a deformity of the toes caused by diabetic nerve damage and poor circulation that can also lead to diabetic foot ulcers.
It is also important to cut your toenails straight across to avoid ingrown toenails as they can also lead to diabetic foot ulcers and a foot infection.
Diabetic blisters are a common complication of diabetes and can be painful and irritating. If you have diabetic blisters, it is important to see your doctor for treatment as they can quickly become infected.
There are some steps that you can take to help prevent diabetic blisters, including managing your diabetes, monitoring your blood glucose levels, and taking care of your feet with the health tips provided above.
There are also other diabetes-related foot conditions that you need to be aware of, such as diabetic foot ulcers, Charcot foot, corns and calluses, and hammertoes.
If you have any concerns or questions about your feet, please see your doctor, health care provider, or podiatrist right away.
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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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