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Diabetes and Boils

It is a common misconception that diabetes causes boils. This is not entirely true because diabetes does not cause boils directly. However, changes in the blood sugar levels can make your skin more prone to getting fungal and bacterial infections. Coming in contact with the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus or some fungus can cause boils. These skin infections usually take longer to heal in people with diabetes and may also cause severe complications. This is why people who have diabetes need to take extra care of their skin, making sure that their skin is well moisturized and healthy. Read on to find out more about diabetes and boils and how you can prevent skin infections and complications if you have diabetes.

Why Are People With Diabetes Prone To Getting Skin Infections?

Type 2 diabetes often causes damage to your blood vessels, which leads to a lack of blood flow to your skin. It is important to know that the blood carries white blood cells, which are essential infection-fighting cells in the body. If there is a lack of blood flow to the skin, the skin becomes unable to fight against infections as effectively as it used to. This makes the skin susceptible to infection, and it can also worsen existing wounds or skin conditions. Injuries and skin conditions also take longer to heal due to this lack of blood flow.(12)

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People with diabetes are more vulnerable to developing the following skin conditions:

  • Bacterial Infections: There are many types of bacteria that can infect the skin, causing an infection. These can include boils, carbuncles, styes, and many others. One of the most common bacteria that infect the skin is Staphylococcus aureus, which causes staph infections. This bacteria can easily enter through a crack or cut in the skin.(34)
  • Atherosclerosis: This is a medical condition that is caused by the narrowing of the blood vessels. When the walls of the blood vessels become thick, it leads to the narrowing of the vessel. This is usually a risk factor for heart attacks and stroke. If atherosclerosis affects the blood vessels close to the skin’s surface, it makes the skin discolored or shiny. This can also make the skin feel cold to the touch and also lead to a loss of hair on the skin.(56)
  • Acanthosis nigricans: Acanthosis nigricans causes the darkening or thickening of the skin in patches. These patches are usually located on your armpits, groin, or neck.(78)
  • Bullous diabeticorum: In this condition, diabetic blisters form on the hands, feet, and fingers. The blisters are usually not painful, and they get better on their own.(910)

What are the Symptoms of a Boil?

A boil usually appears to be a swollen bump on your skin. This bump might look like a simple insect bite or even a pimple that has a white or yellow center. A boil can develop anywhere on the body. The common symptoms of a boil include:

  • A swollen and painful bump on the skin
  • Surrounding skin becomes red and warm to the touch.
  • Pus or some discharge drains from the bump.
  • Fever
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Boils can also occur in the form of a cluster, which is then known as a carbuncle. Just like boils, people with diabetes are at a higher risk of developing a carbuncle as well.(1112)

Is It Possible To Prevent Boils If You Have Diabetes?

The best way to prevent boils and other skin conditions is to manage your diabetes properly. This means maintaining your blood sugar at a healthy level through exercise, medication, and exercise. You may also follow a healthy skincare routine to decrease the probability of getting skin infections like a boil.

Here are some things to keep in mind if you have diabetes and you want to prevent getting skin infections like a boil.

  1. Pay Attention To Your Diet

    You should eat a nutritious and well-balanced diet that is made up of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and protein. You can consult a dietitian if you want to follow a specific diet designed to help you regulate your blood sugar levels. This may involve eating lesser carbohydrates, choosing healthy meal options, and also avoiding or limiting the intake of certain foods, especially highly processed and sugary foods. A healthy diet is essential to managing your diabetes effectively.(131415)

  2. Have A Regular Exercise Routine

    Engaging in regular physical activity is essential for people with diabetes. Having a weekly exercise routine and following it strictly can help you control your blood sugar levels and also benefit your blood pressure. According to recommendations by the American Diabetes Association (ADA), people with diabetes should be getting at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise every week.(16)

    This can be broken down into half an hour of physical activity at least five times a week, or if you want to make it more strenuous, you can even do 50 minutes of exercise three times a week. (1718)

    Regular exercise can also help you maintain a healthy weight, which is another essential factor in managing diabetes.

  3. Practice Good Hygiene

    Skincare has a huge role to play in diabetes management. According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD), here are certain things to keep in mind and follow if you have diabetes:(19)

    • Use lukewarm, not hot, water when taking a shower or bathing.
    • Use fragrance-free cleansers and soaps for the skin.
    • Apply moisturizer daily to prevent your skin from getting dry. This may cause the skin to crack, making it easy for bacteria to enter.
    • Make sure to check your feet thoroughly every day and treat cracked heels immediately.
    • Dry your skin carefully, especially in places where moisture tends to accumulate.
    • Seek medical attention for nail or skin infections at the earliest.
    • Treat scrapes, cuts, and any type of skin issues immediately.
    • You should also avoid wearing clothing that causes excessive sweating or chafing.

How To Treat Boils?

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If you find a boil coming up on the skin, the first thing to keep in mind is that you should never pop it or pick at it. Popping a boil increases the likelihood of the infection spreading further, and it will also allow the bacteria present inside the boil to spread easily to other parts of the skin.

Instead of popping the boil, apply a warm, moist compress to the area to promote healing. A warm compress will also make it easy for the pus to draw itself out of the boil. Make sure to keep the affected area free of any debris and clean. You should always wash your hands after touching the boil, and it is a good idea to keep the boil covered with a sterile bandage. Make sure to keep changing the bandage at least twice a day.

If you find that the boil is not healing or there are some other issues with the boil, contact your doctor at the earliest. You should also seek medical care if you have a rather large boil or if you develop boils that appear to be in a cluster, as this can be a carbuncle.

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You should contact a doctor if you notice the following:

  • Your boil keeps coming back.
  • The boil continues to last for over two weeks.
  • You have an accompanying fever.
  • The boil is located in the center of your face or on the spine.
  • The boil is growing rapidly, or it is extremely painful.

In such cases, your doctor might have to surgically open or lance the boil to drain the pus inside. To do this, your doctor will make a small incision on the top of the boil and drain out the pus and fluid from it. If the boil is very deep, your doctor may have to pack the area with clean gauze to allow the rest of the pus to drain out. You may also be prescribed a round of antibiotics to help fight off the skin infection.

Conclusion

It is important to understand that diabetes does not cause boils directly. Having diabetes does not mean that you will automatically start having boils. However, having diabetes does make your body and skin less capable of fighting off infections. This makes it easy for bacteria and other infectious agents to infect the skin. If you get a boil, do not pop it or pick at it. Keep an eye on it, and depending on where it is located, if you have a fever or if it does not get better even after two weeks, you should consult a doctor.

At the same time, if you notice that you are experiencing some unexpected issues like a recurring boil or a collection of boils, you should show it to a doctor at the earliest to rule out the possibility of having an MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) infection, which is resistant to many antibiotics, or another skin condition that needs more specific medical care.

References:

  1. Calvet, H.M. and Yoshikawa, T.T., 2001. Infections in diabetes. Infectious disease clinics of North America, 15(2), pp.407-421.
  2. Pozzilli, P. and Leslie, R.D.G., 1994. Infections and diabetes: mechanisms and prospects for prevention. Diabetic Medicine, 11(10), pp.935-941.
  3. Peleg, A.Y., Weerarathna, T., McCarthy, J.S. and Davis, T.M., 2007. Common infections in diabetes: pathogenesis, management and relationship to glycaemic control. Diabetes/metabolism research and reviews, 23(1), pp.3-13.
  4. Romano, G., Moretti, G., Di Benedetto, A., Giofre, C., Di Cesare, E., Russo, G., Califano, L. and Cucinotta, D., 1998. Skin lesions in diabetes mellitus: prevalence and clinical correlations. Diabetes research and clinical practice, 39(2), pp.101-106.
  5. Beckman, J.A., Creager, M.A. and Libby, P., 2002. Diabetes and atherosclerosis: epidemiology, pathophysiology, and management. Jama, 287(19), pp.2570-2581.
  6. Pyörälä, K., Laakso, M. and Uusitupa, M., 1987. Diabetes and atherosclerosis: an epidemiologic view. Diabetes/metabolism reviews, 3(2), pp.463-524.
  7. Stuart, C.A., Gilkison, C.R., Smith, M.M., Bosma, A.M., Keenan, B.S. and Nagamani, M., 1998. Acanthosis nigricans as a risk factor for non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus. Clinical Pediatrics, 37(2), pp.73-79.
  8. Kong, A.S., Williams, R.L., Smith, M., Sussman, A.L., Skipper, B., Hsi, A.C. and Rhyne, R.L., 2007. Acanthosis nigricans and diabetes risk factors: prevalence in young persons seen in southwestern US primary care practices. The Annals of Family Medicine, 5(3), pp.202-208.
  9. Basarab, T., Munn, S.E., McGrath, J. and Jones, R.R., 1995. Bullosis diabeticorum. A case report and literature review. Clinical and experimental dermatology, 20(3), pp.218-220.
  10. Cantwell, A.R. and Martz, W., 1967. Idiopathic bullae in diabetics: bullosis diabeticorum. Archives of Dermatology, 96(1), pp.42-44.
  11. Venkatesan, R., Baskaran, R., Asirvatham, A.R. and Mahadevan, S., 2017. ‘Carbuncle in diabetes’: a problem even today!. Case Reports, 2017, pp.bcr-2017.
  12. Mohammad, J.A., Al-Ajmi, S. and Al-Rasheed, A.A., 2007. Surgical management of post carbuncle soft tissue defect in diabetic patients. ISSN 148-4196 June/July 2007 Volume 5 Issue 4, p.29.
  13. Blue, C.L., 2007. Does the theory of planned behavior identify diabetes‐related cognitions for intention to be physically active and eat a healthy diet?. Public Health Nursing, 24(2), pp.141-150.
  14. Roglic, G., 2016. WHO Global report on diabetes: A summary. International Journal of Noncommunicable Diseases, 1(1), p.3.
  15. Astrup, A., 2001. Healthy lifestyles in Europe: prevention of obesity and type II diabetes by diet and physical activity. Public health nutrition, 4(2b), pp.499-515.
  16. Weekly exercise targets (no date) Weekly Exercise Targets | ADA. Available at: https://diabetes.org/healthy-living/fitness/weekly-exercise-targets (Accessed: November 13, 2022).
  17. Peirce, N.S., 1999. Diabetes and exercise. British journal of sports medicine, 33(3), pp.161-172.
  18. Richter, E.A., Ruderman, N.B. and Schneider, S.H., 1981. Diabetes and exercise. The American journal of medicine, 70(1), pp.201-209.
  19. Dermatologist-recommended skin care for people with diabetes (no date) American Academy of Dermatology. Available at: https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/a-z/diabetes-skin-care (Accessed: November 13, 2022).
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