If you have diabetes mellitus and you are experiencing skin changes such as boils or other skin infections, you may be wondering if the two are related.

Diabetes does not cause boils directly, but the changes in your blood sugar levels can leave your skin more susceptible to bacterial and fungal infection.

Boils are often caused by contact to Staphylococcus aureus bacteria or even a fungus. In order to prevent boils from occurring, you should practice good skin care and maintenance.

Type 2 diabetes especially can cause damage to blood vessels. This can result in a lack of blood flow to the skin.

Your blood carries essential infection-fighting white blood cells. If there is a lack of blood flowing to the skin, your skin may be unable to fight off infection.

People with diabetes may be more susceptible to the following skin conditions:

  • Acanthosis nigricans. This condition causes thickening or darkening of the skin in patches usually located on your neck, armpits, or groin.
  • Atherosclerosis. This condition is the result of blood vessel walls becoming thick and causing narrowing. If atherosclerosis affects the vessels close to the skin, it leaves the skin shiny or discolored. It may cause the skin to be cold and promote the loss of hair as well.
  • Bacterial infections. There are many types of bacteria that can infect the skin and cause various types of infections. These include styes, boils, carbuncles, and others.
  • Bullosis diabeticorum. Diabetic blisters typically occur on the hands, feet, and fingers. They are not usually painful and tend to resolve on their own.

To help prevent skin conditions — such as boils — related to your diabetes, you must keep your diabetes under control. Lifestyle areas to focus on include:

Diet

Eat a balanced diet of healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, protein and whole grains. Your diet can help keep your diabetes in control.

Exercise

Try to participate in physical activity as much as possible. Maintaining a healthy body weight can help you manage your diabetes. Discuss with your doctor what a healthy weight looks like for you.

Hygiene

To prevent skin conditions in general:

  • wash your skin
  • use mild antibacterial soaps
  • rinse and dry skin well after washing
  • use lotion or other moisturizers
  • do not wear clothing that causes chafing
  • monitor skin for sores or rashes

If you notice a boil developing in your skin, do not pick at it or pop it. Popping your boil will open it to further infection risks as well as allow the bacteria inside of it to perhaps spread to other areas of your skin.

Instead, apply a warm compress to the area. A warm, moist compress will promote healing. It will encourage the pus to draw itself out of the boil.

You should keep the area clean and free of any debris. Make sure to wash your hands after touching the boil and keep the boil covered with a clean bandage.

If there are issues with your boil healing properly, contact your doctor.

Always alert your doctor of any new conditions that may be related to your diabetes. In the case of a boil, contact your doctor if:

  • Your boil lasts for more than two weeks.
  • Your boil is recurring.
  • Your boil is located on your spine or in the center of your facial area.
  • You have a fever.
  • Your boil is extremely painful or grows rapidly.

If any of these occur, your doctor may surgically open (lance) and drain the boil. To do this, they will make a small cut into the top of the boil and remove the pus and fluid from it.

If the boil is especially deep, the doctor may pack the wound with clean gauze to soak up the rest of the pus. Your doctor may also prescribe a course of antibiotics to help your body fight the infection.

While diabetes does not directly cause boils, having diabetes does make your skin and body less able to fight off infections. If you get a boil, keep an eye on it, and based on its location and other considerations, talk to your doctor about it.

If you notice unexpected issues such as a collection of boils or a recurring boil, meet with your doctor to make sure you haven’t picked up a MRSA infection or an additional skin condition that needs specific medical attention.