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Why Diabetes Causes Dry, Itchy Skin

written by: K. A. Arbuckle • edited by: lrohner • updated: 9/19/2010

Diabetes and itching skin often occur together. Several diabetes symptoms can cause skin conditions. Treatment options are available that can help prevent skin problems in diabetics.

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    The American Diabetes Associations reports that approximately 33 percent of diabetics may have skin complications at some point in their lives that are caused by their diabetes. Some of the skin conditions may cause itching or dry skin. Diabetes and itching skin has several possible causes and treatments.

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    Causes

    Dry and itchy skin in diabetics is primarily caused by high blood sugar. The body pulls moisture from tissues to try to counteract the increase in glucose levels, and can leave the skin dry and irritated. Other causes of itching are caused by fungal or yeast infections, diabetic neuropathy and poor circulation. Nerve damage can reduce the body's ability to sweat, drying out the skin.

    Poor circulation, neuropathy and infections can cause numerous problems in the extremities of diabetics, especially the feet. Diabetics have a high susceptibility to infections, so dry skin that cracks can create more advanced skin problems like serious infections. Some skin conditions may be the result of allergic reactions to medications used to treat diabetes or other illnesses and food allergies.

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    Symptoms

    Other symptoms may appear along with the itchy skin. In yeast or fungal infections, the skin may appear red with small blister-like bumps. Scaly skin, flakiness and fissures can occurs with dry skin and infections. Athlete’s foot, ringworm, jock itch, and vaginal infections all are common in diabetics and cause itching with irritation, sores, and discharge. Skin ulcers, an open sore that can be deep, might form on cuts or injuries. Diabetic skin conditions are slow to heal due to elevated blood glucose. Diabetics should check regularly for any skin problems. The sooner symptoms are identified, the more effectively they can be treated.

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    Treatments

    Treatment for itching skin in diabetics depends in part on the underlying conditions. The first line of defense is to control blood glucose levels through diet, exercise and medication.

    It is important that diabetics stay well hydrated to help keep skin from drying out. Drinking plenty of water or non-sugary fluids is crucial for the treatment of itchy skin in diabetics. Dry skin treatment may also include reducing bathing time, using cooler water, adding supplements for skin to the diet, using a lanolin based moisturizer and only using mild soaps as needed. Fungal and yeats infections will require a health care provider to diagnose and prescribe medication for treatment. For skin itching caused by poor circulation or diabetic neuropathy, you may need special medication to treat underlying problems, such as atherosclerosis. The National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse recommends wearing all cotton under garments to help with air flow.

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    References

    American Diabetes Association: Living with Diabetes: Skin Complications

    http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/complications/skin-complications.html

    Cleveland Clinic: Foot and Skin Related Complications of Diabetes

    http://my.clevelandclinic.org/disorders/diabetes_mellitus/hic_foot_and_skin_related_complications_of_diabetes.aspx

    Milton S. Hershey Medical Center: Xerosis

    http://www.hmc.psu.edu/healthinfo/uz/xerosis.htm

    Nation Diabetes Information Clearinghouse: Prevent Diabetes Problems: Keep Your Feet and Skin Healthy

    http://diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/complications_feet/