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Nail Care for Diabetics

How to Care for Your Nails & Feet When You Have Diabetes

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Updated June 30, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

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This article has been reviewed by the Medical Review Board and is considered medically accurate.

Keep Your Nails Healthy

Nails look like mere decoration on our hands and feet when painted, but their true purpose is to protect the fingers and toes from injury and trauma. In addition, the appearance of fingernails and toenails is often an indication of our overall health.

People with diabetes can suffer nerve damage, reducing sensations in the fingers and toes -- a condition called diabetic neuropathy. You may not notice a foot injury until a severe infection or damage has already set in.

Diabetics are particularly vulnerable to foot problems, and they can also develop circulation issues that reduce blood flow and oxygen to the feet. Sores, cuts and cracks in the skin, which may seem minor, can become ulcers, potentially leading to complications that can result in amputation.

Schedule Regular Foot Exams

To make sure your feet are healthy, and to avoid future problems, see your podiatrist annually for a foot exam. And any other time you visit your primary doctor, have your feet checked. Some health professionals even suggest doing this four times a year. Useful tip: Remove your socks and shoes before your doctor does routine exams so that you’ll remember to ask him/her to examine your feet.

Examine Feet Daily

Do daily self-exams. Check for dry, cracked skin, blisters, cuts, scratches and sores, wounds, bunions, hammertoes, Athlete’s foot, calluses and ingrown toenails. Also observe whether your feet have unusual or increased redness, tenderness, sore toenails, burning, pain, abnormal swelling or an increase in size, color changes, strange sensations like pins and needles, tingling or numbness or lack of feeling, or unusual warmth when you touch them. Warm areas of the feet could indicate the beginning of an infection, while coolness could indicate decreased circulation due to a lack of blood flow. If you have thick or yellow nails, see your doctor for an exam and treatment.

Wear Properly-Fitting Shoes

Wear properly fitting and comfortable shoes. Tight or poorly-fitting shoes can cause friction or pressure that can lead to blisters, corns, calluses and other possible problems. If you get blisters or sores from your shoes, don’t pop them. Apply a bandage and switch to better shoes.

Diabetics - Does the Shoe Fit?

Treat Even Minor Foot Problems

Ask your doctor for guidelines on how to care for your feet, including doing first aid. If you have foot injuries or infections, tell your doctor. Don’t self-treat corns or calluses with OTC products, as some can cause burns or damage the skin. Seek a health professional to help.

When bathing or showering, be sure that the water isn't too hot by testing with your hands or your elbow: if you don't check first, you may not be able to sense that the water is too hot, and end up scalding your feet.

Be sure to wash your feet daily with a mild soap, using warm—not hot—water. Dry your feet thoroughly, and apply lotion or cream to prevent cracking of the skin, especially the heels. Don’t apply lotion between the toes, as this area can become too moist, possibly causing fungal infections. Diabetics are also prone to developing onychomycosis, a nail infection that causes thick, brittle nails. Sometimes the nails develop sharp points and can injure the surrounding skin, and small cuts and scrapes on the skin can lead to more fungal infections.

Avoid walking barefoot. Wear socks or slippers even in the house.

Be sure to see a foot specialist (podiatrist) or a chiropodist (specialists who care for hands and feet), who can check your circulation and determine whether you have decreased sensations.

Pedicure Tips

You might need to see a foot specialist for regular trimming to prevent thickened and/or ingrown nails. But if you're able to do pedicures yourself, here are some tips:

• Don’t soak for more than five minutes
• Trim toenails every 6 – 8 weeks. Cut toenails after bathing, because the nails will be soft.
• Cut straight across, using a nail cutter. (Diabetics are advised to not use nail scissors.) Ask your doctor about the right nail tools and products to use.
• Don’t cut the toenails too short (skin can get injured), or down the edges. This can cause ingrown nails. Smooth the nails using an emery board to avoid sharp edges, and avoid cutting into the corners of the toes. Do not cut or push back the cuticles.
• There are special hand and foot care products for diabetics. Ask your doctor for suggestions.

Additional Tips

• Avoid or limit the use of artificial nails (water can get trapped under the nail and lead to fungal growth).
• Keep your nail tools clean and disinfected.
• Be careful when having professional manicures and pedicures. Be sure to have professionals who know how to care for diabetic nails perform your own nail services.

Diabetes and Skin Care

More Information:

Type I Diabetes
Type II Diabetes

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