Taking care of diabetes means you need to take certain steps each day throughout the years to keep the parts of your body which can be affected by diabetes healthy. These include your heart, eyes, kidneys and feet. As a podiatrist (a doctor who specializes in feet and foot care), I work with many people who have diabetes. What I often share with these people is this: Your feet can last you for the rest of your life if you make the daily effort to treat them well.
Daily Foot Care: a Hands-on Effort
Try to look at your feet every day to be sure nothing has become stuck in the skin such as a tack or pebble. Beyond just using your eyes to check, use your hands as well. Rub the back of your hand on the soles of your feet each night to be sure there is nothing in the skin that doesn’t belong there. The reason to use your hand is because many years of diabetes may have caused some nerve damage. So, your feet may feel numb, tingling, burning and/or painful. And if your feet are numb you can’t feel the bottoms like you used to. So use your hand to check your feet. Over the years, I have seen many people with diabetes with full-blown foot infections that occur because the person stepped on something and never felt it in the first place.
Help Avoid foot problems by taking these steps:
- Don’t rely on what you may or may not feel. Use a mirror to help you see the bottoms of your feet.
- Never use a pumice stone, callus-cutting scissors or blade on your feet. This kind of “bathroom surgery” is the fastest way to get a hard-to-heal infection. See a podiatrist if you need your nails, corns or calluses trimmed. You will walk more comfortably, and you will be sure that you have done everything you can to avoid infection.
- Always check the water temperature of your bath, hot tub or shower with your elbow before putting your feet in. (Feet can lose feeling, but elbows don’t.) This will help you avoid burning your feet.
- Change your socks or hose daily.
- Wash your feet daily with mild soap and water.
- Keep your feet well-moisturized. But be careful never to rub lotion between your toes.
- Check inside your shoes before you put them on. Make sure there is nothing in them that might irritate your skin.
- Check for cracks, breaks or cuts on the bottoms of your feet and between your toes. These small breaks in the skin can let bacteria enter and can cause infections.
- Get an ingrown toenail treated quickly. Toenails are full of bacteria. When a nail digs into your skin, bacteria gets into your blood, and infection may occur. As soon as you feel pain in your toes, call your health care provider. Never use over-the-counter foot medicines. Believe it or not, a small, simple, ingrown nail left untreated can lead to a very bad infection and weeks of healing.
- It is important to do everything possible to make sure you do not get an infection. If there are cuts between your toes or blisters on the soles of your feet, ask your pharmacist about medicine you can get that will heal the cracks and keep the bacteria from getting in. If there is pus, redness or swelling, there are antibiotics to cure the infection.
- If you have diabetes, any red sore, blister or sign of infection on the foot can be an emergency. Call your health care provider right away if it doesn’t go away in 24 hours. Never allow a small spot on your foot to become red, foul-smelling, streaking, swollen or sore. If you treat a problem early enough, it can keep it from turning into a bad infection which takes weeks to heal. Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
- Never be afraid to ask questions or ask someone to look at a foot problem you think you have. Surround yourself with health care providers who know a lot about diabetes. Use their knowledge to help you live a long, happy, healthy and active life and one that keeps you on your healthy toes.