Diabetes doesn’t cause boils or other skin conditions, but high blood sugar can damage blood vessels. This may make you more susceptible to infections, including those affecting the skin.
Diabetes doesn’t cause boils directly, but the changes in your blood sugar levels can leave your skin more susceptible to bacterial and fungal infections. These infections may also take longer to heal and lead to severe complications.
Boils are often caused by contact with Staphylococcus aureus bacteria or a fungus.
In order to prevent boils or other skin conditions from occurring, you may need to take extra steps to keep your skin moisturized and healthy. This may include daily maintenance and seeking medical attention for signs of a skin infection.
Keep reading to learn the signs of skin infections, when to seek help, and how to help prevent skin infections if you have diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes 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’s a lack of blood flowing to the skin, your skin may be unable to fight off infection as effectively. This may make wounds and other skin conditions worsen or take longer to heal.
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: Many types of bacteria can infect the skin and cause an infection. These include styes, boils, carbuncles, and others. Staphylococcus aureus bacteria commonly causes staph infections by entering through a cut or crack in the skin.
- Bullosis diabeticorum: Diabetic blisters typically occur on the hands, feet, and fingers. They’re not usually painful and tend to resolve on their own.
A boil typically looks like a swollen bump on the skin. The bump may look like an insect bite or a pimple with a yellow or white center. It can appear anywhere on the body.
Symptoms may include:
- swollen bump
- painful bump
- surrounding skin is red and warm
- pus or fluid drains from the bump
Boils may also form a cluster, known as a carbuncle.
Effectively managing your diabetes can help prevent skin conditions including boils. This involves keeping your blood sugar at a healthy level through diet, exercise, and in some cases, medication.
You may also need to follow specific skin care steps to reduce the likelihood of getting a skin infection.
Eat a balanced diet of nutritious foods such as fruits, vegetables, protein, and whole grains.
A doctor or dietitian may recommend a specific diet to help control your blood sugar levels. This may involve choosing nutritious meal options, eating fewer carbs, and avoiding certain foods.
A healthful diet can help keep diabetes in control.
Regularly engaging in physical activity can benefit your blood sugar levels and blood pressure. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week. This can look like 30 minutes of physical activity 5 times per week or 50 minutes of physical activity 3 times per week.
Exercising regularly can also help you maintain a moderate body weight.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD), skin care can play a big part in diabetes management.
The AAD recommends:
- using fragrance-free soaps and cleansers
- applying moisturizer daily to help prevent skin from becoming dry and cracked
- inspecting your feet daily and treating cracked heels
- using warm but not hot water when bathing or showering
- drying the skin carefully, especially areas where moisture can gather
- treating cuts, scrapes, and other skin issues immediately
- seeking medical attention for skin or nail infections
You can also try avoiding clothing that causes chafing.
If you notice a boil developing in your skin, do not pick at it or pop it. Popping your boil can cause further infection and allow the bacteria inside of it to 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 a doctor. Medical care may also be necessary for large boils or boils that appear in a cluster.
Always alert a doctor of any new conditions that may be related to your diabetes. In the case of a boil, contact a doctor if:
- your boil lasts for more than 2 weeks
- your boil keeps coming back
- 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, a doctor may surgically open (lance) and drain the boil. To do this, they’ll 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. A 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 with a doctor about it.
If you notice unexpected issues such as a collection of boils or a recurring boil, meet with a doctor to make sure you haven’t picked up a MRSA infection or an additional skin condition that needs specific medical attention.