The blisters typically occur in people with uncontrolled diabetes. They are painless and tend to heal on their own without the need for medical intervention.
This article looks at the causes and symptoms of diabetic blisters and lists several ways to treat and prevent them.
Diabetic blisters are quite rare but some people are at greater risk of developing them.
The exact cause of diabetic blisters is not known, but several factors are thought to play a role in blister development. The blisters may result from:
- wearing shoes that do not fit properly
- reduced circulation
- a fungal infection called Candida albicans
- other injury or irritation to the feet or hands
Furthermore, certain people with diabetes are more at risk of developing diabetic blisters than others. People at risk of developing diabetic blisters include:
- people whose blood sugar levels are not under control
- people with diabetic neuropathy, a type of diabetes-induced nerve damage
- people with peripheral artery disease
- people with sensitivity to ultraviolet (UV) light
- men, as research reveals men are twice as likely as women to have diabetic blisters
Diabetic blisters most commonly appear in people who have had uncontrolled diabetes for several years. In some cases, however, they may be the first indication of diabetes or even prediabetes.
Blisters are usually clear bumps that typically appear on the legs, feet, and toes, as well as the arms, hands, and fingers. They may be:
- up to 6 inches across
- clustered or, less commonly, occurring as a single lesion
- filled with a clear fluid
The skin around diabetic blisters will usually look normal. A person should see a doctor immediately if the skin is red or swollen.
Bandaging the affected area may help to prevent scratching or busting the blister.
According to some research, diabetic blisters will heal on their own within 2 to 5 weeks. Therefore, treating diabetic blisters usually focuses on preventing an infection. One of the primary ways to do this is to avoid puncturing the blisters.
If diabetic blisters are very large, persistent, or causing pain or irritation, they can be treated with:
- Saline compresses to relieve itching and irritation.
- Bandaging to avoid bursting or scratching the blister and surrounding skin.
- Aspiration by a doctor to drain the blister. This is done with the blister roof left intact to reduce a risk of infection.
- Topical antibiotics or steroids, although unnecessary usually, may be helpful in severe cases.
In addition to reducing the risk of infection, it is also advisable to see a doctor or dermatologist to rule out more serious skin conditions that can affect those with diabetes. In some cases, a biopsy of the blister may be required.
Avoiding shoes that irritate or rub the skin may help prevent blisters on the feet.
People with diabetes should closely monitor their skin health to look for blisters and other skin conditions.
A person can help prevent diabetic blisters by:
- regularly and thoroughly inspecting their arms, hands, legs, and feet
- wearing shoes that fit properly and avoiding those that chafe or irritate the skin
- wearing socks and shoes to avoid injury to the feet
- using gloves when handling equipment that could cause blistering, such as scissors and tools
- limiting exposure to UV light and using sunscreen when outdoors
- consulting a doctor or podiatrist to treat other foot problems immediately
The most important step, however, that can be taken to prevent diabetic blisters, is to keep blood sugar levels under control. This is best done with the correct medication, and by making any necessary dietary and lifestyle changes.
When to see a doctor
People with diabetes who notice changes to their skin, including the formation of diabetic blisters, should consult their doctor.
Symptoms that require prompt medical treatment include:
- swelling of the skin
- red or irritated skin around the lesion
- a feeling of warmth around the blister
Diabetic blisters are rare and are more common in people with uncontrolled diabetes than in others with the condition. In most cases, the blisters are painless and will heal on their own within a few weeks.
Nevertheless, as there is a risk of a secondary infection, it is necessary to consult a doctor if diabetic blisters appear, particularly if they are accompanied by other symptoms.
Some of the steps that can be taken to prevent diabetic blisters include regularly inspecting the skin and protecting it from incurring injury and irritation.
Most importantly, people with diabetes should keep their blood sugar levels under control to avoid diabetic blisters and other complications.