If you have diabetes, it's essential to make foot care part of your daily self-care routine.
That's because "people can develop complications before they realize they even have a problem," says Bresta Miranda-Palma, MD, a professor with the Diabetes Research Institute at the University of Miami Medical School. "I've seen people walk on a nail for weeks until infection has developed."
When feet and legs have nerve damage, a small cut or wound can go unnoticed. That's why it's critical to check for problems before they get infected and lead to serious complications -- like gangrene or amputation.
"Daily foot care is the most important thing," says Miranda-Palma. "About 85% of amputations can be prevented if the patient gets a wound treated in time."
That means checking your feet daily and seeing a foot doctor (podiatrist) every two or three months in order to catch problems early.
Diabetes: Tips for Regular Foot Care
- Wash and dry your feet with mild soap and warm water. Dry your feet thoroughly, especially between the toes, an area more prone to fungal infections. Use lotion on your feet to prevent cracking, but don't put the lotion between your toes.
- Do not soak feet, or you'll risk infection if the skin begins to break down. And if you have nerve damage, take care with water temperature. You risk burning your skin if you can't feel that the water is too hot.
- Trim toenails straight across with a nail clipper. You can prevent ingrown toenails if you don't round the corners of the nails or cut down the sides. Smooth the nails with an emery board.
Your Daily Foot Exam Checklist
Check the tops and bottoms of your feet, using a mirror if you need it; you can also ask someone else to check your feet for you. Also, be sure to get your feet examined at every doctor's visit.
When examining your feet, look for:
- Cuts/scratches: Wash any you find with mild soap and water. Use antibiotic creams recommended by your doctor and apply sterile bandages to protect cuts. If your cut has redness, is oozing, or has a foul-smelling discharge, contact your doctor right away.
- Ulcers: Minor scrapes or cuts that heal slowly -- or sores from badly-fitting shoes -- can become infected, causing ulcers. To prevent foot ulcers, treat scrapes or cuts right away. Talk to your doctor about any foot sores you have. It's important to get them treated immediately.
- Dry skin: Use moisturizing soaps and lotions to keep your skin soft, but don't put lotion between toes; moisture there can cause fungus growth.
- Blisters: If shoes don't fit properly, blisters can develop. Don't break a blister open, risking infection. Simply clean it and apply an antibacterial cream, then cover it with a bandage.
- Cracking, itching, red skin between the toes are signs of athlete's foot fungus. Treat it right away to prevent further infection -- your doctor can recommend a pill or cream.
- Corns/calluses: After every shower or bath smooth these with an emery board or pumice stone -- but don't try to remove a callus all at once, give it several attempts. Do not use drugstore remedies for corns and calluses and do not try to cut or remove a corn or callus.
- Plantar warts: These painful callus look-alikes are caused by a virus and develop on the foot's underside. See a doctor for treatment.
- Ingrown toenails: Trimming toenails regularly -- cutting only across the top -- helps prevent ingrown toenails. When toenails cut into the skin, pain, redness, and infection may result. See a doctor if you develop an ingrown toenail.
- Discolored/yellowed toenails that are thick and brittle means you likely have a fungal nail infection. Your doctor can prescribe long-term medication to treat the infection and improve your nail's appearance.
- Redness, warmth, swelling, or pain: These are symptoms of inflammation and infection. See a doctor right away.
- Blue or black skin color indicates blood flow problems. If you're foot is cold and blue or black this is an emergency; get to a hospital immediately.
Call Your Doctor if You Notice:
- Changes in skin color.
- Changes in skin temperature.
- Swelling in your foot or ankle.
- Pain in your legs.
- Open sores on your feet that are draining or slow to heal.
- Ingrown toenails or toenails infected with fungus.
- Corns or calluses.
- Dry cracks in the skin, especially around the heel.
- Unusual and/or persistent foot odor.
How to Protect Your Feet:
- Don't go barefoot.
- Wear only flat shoes that cover your feet.
- Break in new footwear gradually.
- Make sure shoes fit properly.
- Always wear cotton or wool socks.
- Buy shoes when wearing your normal socks.