People with diabetes might occasionally experience blisters on their skin. These are known as diabetic blisters, bullosis diabeticorum, or diabetic bullae.

Diabetic blisters are relatively rare but reports on how often they develop vary. Blisters typically occur in people who do not control blood sugar well. They are painless and tend to heal on their own without treatment.

In this article, we look at the causes and symptoms of diabetic blisters and give several ways of treating and preventing those that do not respond to other treatment.

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Diabetes can lead to blisters on the feet.

The exact cause of diabetic blisters is unclear, but several factors might play a role in their development.

The blisters may result from:

  • shoes that do not fit correctly
  • reduced circulation
  • Candida albicans, a fungal infection
  • other injury or irritation in the feet or hands

One report from 2009 suggests that diabetic blisters develop in 0.5 percent of people with the condition.

Another, older study of people in India from 2003 places the figure closer to 2 percent.

However, some people with diabetes have a higher risk of developing blisters than others. These include:

  • People who are not controlling blood sugar levels effectively.
  • Those with diabetic neuropathy, a type of nerve damage that occurs due to prolonged high blood sugar.
  • Individuals with peripheral artery disease.
  • People with a sensitivity to ultraviolet (UV) light.
  • Men, who are twice as likely as women to have diabetic blisters.

Diabetic blisters most often develop in people who do not control their diabetes correctly for several years. Despite this, some people may find that blisters are the first symptom they experience as a result 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:

  • have an irregular shape
  • be up to 6 inches across
  • cluster or, less commonly, occur as a single lesion
  • fill with a clear fluid
  • cause an itching sensation

The skin around diabetic blisters will usually look healthy. A person should see a doctor immediately if the skin is red or swollen.

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A bandage can protect the blister and reduce the risk of infection.

According to a 2015 review in the journal Clinical Diabetes, diabetic blisters often heal without treatment in 2 to 5 weeks.

Treating diabetic blisters, therefore, usually focuses on preventing infection. One of the primary ways to prevent infection is to avoid puncturing or bursting the blisters.

If diabetic blisters are particularly large, persistent, painful, or inflamed, a person can treat them with:

  • Saline compresses: These can help relieve itching and irritation.
  • Bandaging: These may protect the blister and surrounding skin from bursting or scratching.
  • Aspiration: During this procedure, a doctor drains the blister, leaving the blister roof intact to reduce the risk of infection.
  • Topical antibiotics or steroids: These might help in severe cases but are a last resort and unnecessary for most presentations of diabetic blisters.

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 develop in people with diabetes.

In some cases, the doctor might carry out a biopsy of the blister.

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Wearing sunscreen when outdoors can help prevent diabetic blisters.

The most important step a person can take to prevent diabetic blisters is to keep blood sugar levels under control.

Taking the correct medication and making any necessary dietary and lifestyle changes are the best choices for effective blood glucose control.

Also, 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:

  • Inspecting their arms, hands, legs, and feet regularly and thoroughly.
  • Wearing shoes that fit properly, and avoiding those that chafe or irritate the skin.
  • Being sure to wear 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 provide immediate treatment for other foot problems.

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 a lesion
  • a feeling of warmth around a blister
  • pain
  • fever

Learn more here about the skin conditions common in people with diabetes.

Diabetic blisters are rare and more common in people with uncontrolled blood glucose 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 blisters increase the risk of secondary infection, it is necessary to consult a doctor if diabetic blisters occur, particularly if other symptoms accompany them.

Some of the steps that might help prevent diabetic blisters include a person regularly inspecting their skin and protecting it from injury and irritation.

Most importantly, people with diabetes should regulate blood sugar levels to avoid diabetic blisters and other complications.

Q:

What other effects does diabetes have on the skin?

A:

The best way to answer this question is with a list, which I have given below.

  1. Yellow, reddish, or brown patches on your skin
  2. Darker area of skin that feels like velvet
  3. Hard, thickening skin
  4. Blisters
  5. Skin infections
  6. Open sores and wounds
  7. Shin spots
  8. Outbreak of small, reddish-yellow bumps
  9. Red or skin-colored raised bumps
  10. Extremely dry, itchy skin
  11. Yellowish scaly patches on and around your eyelids
  12. Skin tags

Cynthia Cobb, APRN Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.