Source: Mary Alford, The News-Enterprise
An estimated 23.1 million people — or 7.2 percent of the U.S. population — had diagnosed diabetes in 2015, according to data from the American Diabetes Association.
Diabetics commonly are at risk for long-term problems impacting the eyes, kidneys, heart, brain, nerves and feet.
Although anyone can have problems with their feet, the possibility of developing even a common foot issue, such as an ingrown toenail, can lead to infection or serious complications and even amputation for diabetics, Hardin Memorial Health Podiatrist Dr. Russell McKinley said.
As a precaution, the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons said it is important for those with diabetes to take preventive measures, including making seasonal weather adjustments.
McKinley said patients with diabetes are prone to poor blood circulation and nerve disease in their extremities. As such, it is important they don’t solely rely on senses, but instead make decisions based on factors, such as a change in climate, to help maintain healthy feet.
When the weather becomes colder, or includes snow, rain and slushy conditions, the potential for dampness exists. McKinley said moisture that collects between socks and feet and toes can form bacteria, which might lead to infection.
McKinley also said to use a moisturizer daily to keep dry skin from itching or cracking. He said dermatologists typically recommend creams, but McKinley said don’t moisturize between the toes, which could encourage a fungal infection.
McKinley said poor circulation associated with diabetes often decreases the moisturizing glands in patients’ feet, leaving them more susceptible to severe dryness.
McKinley compared feet to leather.
“You don’t want leather sopping wet,” he said. “You don’t want leather bone dry because you don’t want it to crack.”
Venessa Paddy with HMH Diabetes Management Services, said winter leads to more skin care problems. She advised during the colder months for diabetics to take better care of their skin and bundle up.
“Because of the nerve damage, they don’t feel,” she said.
The American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons said everyday activities during colder weather, such as warming feet by the fire or adjusting heat on feet in a car, can present issues for patients with diabetes.
McKinley said he has had a diabetic patient come in with burns on their feet, which they received while falling asleep warming them near a heater.
“You know what woke them up? The smell of skin burning,” he said. “He never felt it hurting.”
With numbness caused by neuropathy, McKinley said diabetics might not feel when their feet burn. He said the easiest precaution if feet are cold is to put on socks.
“Touch and pain are one of the last things lost in neuropathy. You don’t lose all your nerve feeling at once,” he said. “It’s very gradual and one of the first things lost is the ability to tell temperatures. I’m not saying you can’t feel hot or cold, I’m saying you can’t feel when your foot is being burned or your foot is being frozen.”
McKinley said choosing footwear also can be a tedious process for many, but having diabetes brings about an even larger set of concerns.
“People don’t realize your shoe size changes your whole life,” McKinley said. “People with diabetes, if they wear the wrong shoe, they don’t know it.”
But, he said there are shoes made specifically for those with diabetic foot problems. He also said he always tells people to purchase shoes in the afternoon, not the morning.
In any climate, the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons said patients with diabetes should wear well-fitted shoes with supportive soles and a wide-toe box to reduce cramping. It said during colder months, extra thought should be given to sock texture and how the weather will affect walking conditions.
Because patients with diabetes are highly sensitive to foot issues, McKinley said they should visit their doctor at least once a year, as should anybody.
McKinley said it’s all about prevention.
“Everybody understands preventative measures for a car,” he said. “If we don’t do something, when something does happen, it’s big. You can replace a car. You can’t replace a heart. You can’t replace a foot. You can’t replace a kidney.”