If you have diabetes and experience the spontaneous eruption of blisters on your skin, they may well be diabetic blisters, also called bullosis diabeticorum or diabetic bullae. Although the blisters may be alarming when you first spot them, they’re painless and normally heal on their own without leaving scars.
A number of skin conditions are associated with diabetes. Diabetic blisters are fairly rare. An article in the International Journal of Diabetes in Developing Countries notes that in the United States, the disorder occurs in only 0.5 percent of people with diabetes. Diabetic blisters are twice as likely to be found in men than women.
Diabetic blisters most often appear on your legs, feet, and toes. Less frequently, they show up on hands, fingers, and arms.
Diabetic blisters can be as large as six inches, though they’re normally smaller. They’re often described as looking like blisters that occur when you get a burn, only without the pain. Diabetic blisters seldom appear as a single lesion. Rather, they are bilateral or occur in clusters. The skin surrounding the blisters is not normally red or swollen. If it is, see your doctor promptly. Diabetic blisters contain a clear, sterile fluid and they are notorious for being itchy.
Given the risk of infection and ulceration when you have diabetes, you may want to see a dermatologist to rule out more serious skin conditions. Diabetic blisters usually heal in two to five weeks without intervention, according to an article in Clinical Diabetes.
The fluid in the blisters is sterile. To prevent infection, you should not puncture the blisters yourself, though if the lesion is large, your doctor may want to drain the fluid. This will keep the skin intact as a covering for the wound, which is seldom the case if the blister ruptures accidentally.
Blisters may be treated with antibiotic cream or ointment and bandaged to protect them from further injury. Your doctor may prescribe a steroidal cream if itching is severe.
Ultimately, keeping your blood sugar levels under control is the most important step you can take to prevent diabetic blisters or to speed their healing if you already have them.
The cause of diabetic blisters is unknown. Many lesions appear with no known injury. Wearing shoes that don’t fit well can cause blisters. The fungal infection candida albicans is another common cause of blisters in people who have diabetes.
You are more likely to get diabetic blisters if your blood sugar levels aren’t well controlled. People who have diabetic neuropathy, nerve damage that reduces sensitivity to pain, are more vulnerable to diabetic blisters. Peripheral artery disease is also thought to play a role.
It’s important to be vigilant about the condition of your skin if you have diabetes. Blisters and lesions may go unnoticed if you have neuropathy. There are steps you can take to prevent blisters and to keep from developing secondary infections when you have the lesions:
- Inspect your feet thoroughly each day.
- Protect your feet from injury by always wearing shoes and socks.
- Wear shoes that aren’t too tight.
- Break in new shoes slowly.
- Wear gloves when using scissors, hand tools, and gardening equipment that can cause blisters.
- Ultraviolet light causes blisters in some people. Apply sunscreen and limit exposure to the sun.
When to see your doctor
Contact your doctor if you develop blisters. Most blisters will heal themselves, but there is risk of secondary infection. The following symptoms warrant an immediate call to the doctor:
- redness around the blister
- warmth radiating from the lesion
- fever that accompanies the above symptoms