Any areas of skin on your feet and toes could become damaged but there are some places where your skin is more at risk. These are areas to keep a particularly close eye on when you check your feet:
The ball of your foot (the underneath of your foot just below your toes).This is an area where your skin is under a lot of pressure because when you walk there are times when much of your weight is on it.
Any areas where your bones might stick out and change the shape of your foot – for example if you have a bunion or hammer toes. Your skin can become damaged on the areas that stick out if your shoes don’t fit well.
Places on your feet where shoes or socks might rub. When you walk your shoes and socks rub can backwards and forwards over your skin which creates forces like friction. These forces cause your skin to become pulled and stretched which damages the blood supply. This can then cause damage to the skin and tissues underneath.
If you have diabetes your feet may sweat less, so your skin can become drier. Use your moisturiser regularly until the dryness improves and then continue to moisturise to keep your skin healthy and supple. If your skin is very dry and it becomes cracked and red or the skin splits then see your podiatrist as soon as you can.
If hard skin builds up it starts to press on the soft skin underneath it which can sometimes damage it. If you have small areas of hard skin then you can gently use a suitable foot file to remove it, but do take care not to damage your skin. Make sure that you only use the foot file on the hard skin and not the healthy skin. If you have lots of hard skin, see your podiatrist to have it removed.
Cracked heels can develop when hard skin around your heel cracks. This can be uncomfortable and sometimes lead to an infection. You can treat this with specialist foot creams which you can get from your pharmacist. If your skin is painful, bleeding or it looks infected see your podiatrist to have it treated.
Corns are small, usually round, areas of very thick skin which often develop in the top of toes or on the side of your little toe. If you have corns don’t use corn plasters to treat them yourself. The plasters contain an acid which breaks down the skin of the corn and if you have diabetes this can cause problems. See a podiatrist to have your corns treated.
Having diabetes makes fungal infections on your feet more likely. If you have a fungal nail infection your nail may be brittle and break easily and it may also be thick and white or yellow in colour. Athlete’s foot can sometimes affect the sole or sides of your feet, where it can cause dry, flaky skin or in between your toes when the skin becomes itchy, red and broken. Seek advice from your doctor, nurse or podiatrist before using any treatment for either of these conditions.
Some people with diabetes do get sweaty feet. By washing your feet every day and making sure that you dry them well you can help to prevent this problem. Your pharmacist may be able to help with anti-perspirants or deodorants. Smelly feet can be a sign of infection, so if you notice that your feet are starting to smell check for any wounds or sores and if you find any see your doctor, nurse or podiatrist for treatment.
Verrucas are warts that grow on the soles of your feet. They are caused by a virus in your skin. They are sometimes treated by freezing them, by applying a lotion or paint containing salicylic acid or by covering them with a strong adhesive tape. However, these treatments can potentially be damaging if you have diabetes so always seek advice from your doctor or podiatrist before you use any treatment.
Ingrown toenails happen when the corner of your nail grows downwards and starts to cut into the skin of your toe (often your big toe). This makes your toe red, swollen and sometimes very painful. If it’s not treated then it can become infected. Ingrown toenails can be caused by shoes and socks that are too tight, by cutting your nail so that it leaves a sharp edge, or sometimes by the way you walk or just the way your nails grow naturally. Don’t try to treat an ingrown toenail yourself. See your podiatrist as soon as you can.
If the top part of your big toe starts to point towards your second toe it can cause the bone at the base of your big toe to stick out; this is called a bunion. The skin over your bunions can become red and swollen and the further they stick out the more likely they are to rub on your shoes. Bunions can sometimes be made worse by shoes that don’t fit properly. If you develop a bunion then you may need to have shoes specially made for your feet to stop pressure on the bunion and to prevent the skin being damaged. Talk to your podiatrist if you start to develop a bunion.
To prevent skin damage from shoes and socks; wear well fitting shoes and comfortable socks made from breathable materials.
If parts of your feet stick out, for example if you have a bunion or any bony lumps, make sure they are protected from injury. This means wearing shoes that don’t rub on these areas and making sure that any areas that stick out are cushioned and protected.
To prevent an injury from stepping on something sharp; always wear shoes or slippers with socks or tights/stockings when you’re up and about. Don’t go barefoot.
Check the bottom of your shoes to see if anything has pierced the soles, like a drawing pin for example, and check inside your shoes for small stones.
Wear shoes with a closed toe to help prevent injuries to your toes
To prevent burns to your skin; take hot water bottles out of your bed before you get in it. If you’re feet are cold at night wear loose fitting socks. Turn an electric under blanket off before you get into bed. Always check the temperature of your bath or shower before you get into it.
Sit a good distance away from any fire, your gas or electric fire or wood burner for example and keep your feet off radiators.