Diabetes can affect just about any organ in the body, and the skin is no exception. With the official start of summer right around the corner, it’s more important than ever to pay close attention to your diabetes control and take extra steps to keep your skin healthy.
Ouch! Having a sunburn looks as painful as it feels. Sunburn, which can occur in less than 15 minutes, is a result of overexposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun. Sunburned skin is red and painful, and it may swell or develop blisters if the burn is severe. Besides being a risk for skin cancer and skin damage, sunburn puts a major stress on the body and can lead to high blood sugars. The best way to deal with a sunburn is to avoid it altogether. That means:
• Using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. Reapply at least every two hours and more often if you’re swimming or sweating. Don’t forget to apply sunscreen on cloudy days, too.
• Avoiding or at least limiting sun exposure between the hours of 10 AM and 4 PM, when the sun’s rays are the strongest.
• Wearing a broad-brimmed hat and covering up as much as possible. If you are outdoors frequently, invest in clothing that provides sun protection.
• Donning sunglasses that have a high UV-protection rating.
What should you do if you get sunburned?
• Get out of the sun!
• Drink plenty of sugar-free fluids.
• Take a cool shower or bath to help soothe the burn.
• Apply a product that contains aloe or vitamin E to help reduce inflammation. Ask your doctor if a cortisone cream might help.
• If you need to take something for the pain, consider taking ibuprofen or acetaminophen, but again, check with your doctor. And if your pain is severe, call your doctor or head to an urgent care clinic or the ER.
• If you have severe blistering or swelling of your face, neck, hands, or feet, head to the nearest ER.
While not exactly a topic for dinnertime conversation, fungal infections are more common in people who have diabetes than in those without the condition. Yeast infections are a type of fungal infection, and vaginal yeast infections can be an annoying issue in women who have diabetes. However, yeast infections can occur between warm, moist folds of skin (especially under the breasts, under the arms, and in the groin area), between fingers and toes, and around the nails. Other fungal infections include athlete’s foot (easy to pick up at community baths and pools if you walk around barefoot), jock itch, and ringworm. Having diabetes also increases the risk for a fungal infection, as does taking certain medications, such as corticosteroids, antibiotics, and birth control pills. Fungus loves warm, moist environments, so it’s not surprising that fungal infections are prevalent during the summer months. Symptoms of a fungal infection include:
• An itchy rash
• Cracked skin
• Red or white lesions in the mouth
• Red skin
• Tiny blisters and scales
• Peeling, redness, itching, and burning, in the case of athlete’s foot
Treatment of fungal infections may include the use of an antifungal ointment or cream, and possibly oral medications known as azoles. More severe or persistent infections may require the use of injections or IV medication.
You can take the following steps to prevent fungal infections:
• Try to keep your blood sugars in your target range.
• Keep your skin as dry as possible, especially under the arms, under the breasts, and in the groin area.
• Dry off thoroughly after a swim, shower, or bath, including the area between your toes.
• Always wear shoes or sandals, especially around pools and in locker rooms.
• Change socks, underwear, and other clothing regularly.
The three Ps: poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac
If your idea of a fabulous summer involves hiking, camping, or gardening, go ahead and enjoy — but look out for poison ivy, oak, and sumac. These plants can cause a maddening itch and blistering rash, thanks to an oil called urushiol. Fortunately, the rash isn’t contagious (although you might find that people will keep their distance from you because of how it looks!). The rash can appear in a number of hours or days. Here are telltale symptoms of the three ps, according to the American Academy of Dermatology:
• Itchy skin
• Small or large blisters
• Crusting skin
The rash can appear on any part of the body that’s exposed to urushiol; you can spread the oil yourself if you, say, touch your face or any exposed body part. While you’re most likely to come in contact with uroshiol by brushing against the plant, you can also be exposed by patting a dog or cat that has it on its fur, or even by touching a garden tool that has urushiol on it. Never burn poison ivy, oak, or sumac, as the plants can release urushiol particles into the air, which can then land on your skin.
Treatment of poison ivy, oak, or sumac involves:
• Immediately rinsing your skin with warm, soapy water.
• Washing your clothing right away, along with anything that may have urushiol on its surface.
• Taking a short, lukewarm bath with either baking soda or colloidal oatmeal (available at a drugstore).
• Applying calamine or hydrocortisone ointment.
• Applying cool compresses to the skin.
• Possibly taking an antihistamine (check with your doctor first).
If your rash is severe, your doctor may recommend a corticosteroid, such as prednisone. Be aware that corticosteroids can increase blood sugar levels. It’s important that you check your blood sugars regularly and report high readings to your doctor; you may temporarily need to increase your diabetes medicine dose or possibly even take insulin. If you have fever, pus, pain, or swelling, you may have an infection and may need to take an antibiotic. Head to the ER right away if:
• You have trouble breathing or swallowing.
• The rash is all over your body.
• You have swelling, especially on your face.
• The rash is on your face or genitals.
Learn what these plants look like so that you can avoid them as much as possible when you’re outside. Wear long pants, a shirt with long sleeves, boots, and gloves. Consider using a protective ivy barrier cream on your skin, which prevents the skin from absorbing urushiol.
Part of living with diabetes is doing everything in your power to avoid blood sugar lows. Bookmark DiabetesSelfManagement.com and tune in later today to learn more from Type 1 veteran Amy Mercer.