Just because the holidays have passed doesn't mean winter weather is going with it, as you're likely aware considering the recent deadly cold snap that affected the entire United States. With record freezing temperatures all across the country – even in Hawaii – there are a number of health risks we have to be wary of, including heart problems, norovirus, the flu, joint stress, and more.
On top of all these issues, diabetics have to worry about peripheral neuropathy.
What is Peripheral Neuropathy?
Peripheral neuropathy is a type of nerve damage or disease which is detrimental to affect sensation or function of certain body parts or organs. This can be a slow progression, and symptoms include numbness, pain, tingling, and even organ shutdown. Peripheral neuropathy is a side-effect of diabetes, and because it causes a lack of sensation, it can lead to further issues, especially during colder weather.
One of the reasons diabetics have so many issues with their feet is because peripheral neuropathy affects the nerves that allow the feet to secrete oils and sweat. Thus, the feet become very dried out, especially in the winter, which can lead to the skin peeling and cracking. This can eventually lead to open sores.
When the skin on the foot does become dry enough to crack, ulcers can develop, become infected, and cause further issues. Ulcers are most common on the ball of the foot or the big toe, and due to the peripheral neuropathy, the person may not feel the pain of the sore. Regardless, all ulcers require medical attention, as it may require special shoes, braces, or casts for proper healing.
The lack of sensation can also result in being unable to tell if feet are too hot or cold. It can be dangerous for diabetics to go out in colder weather due to the fact that they can't sense their limits and are therefore more easily prone to frostbite or lack of circulation to the hands and feet. It's important for diabetics to wear heavier socks and gloves to ensure the body is warm enough. On the flip side, after being out in the cold, diabetics need to be careful when coming inside to warm up. They may not be able to sense whether the water in a bath is too hot or if they are too close to a heater, which could result in burning.
As always, it's important to keep track of blood glucose levels, but there are other precautions diabetics can take in the winter to prevent issues. Using diabetes supplies or wearing diabetic socks can be good for circulation, which helps keep the feet warm and promotes the healing of wounds, as can other compression garments. Wearing several layers is also good for keeping warm. It's also important to moisturize the hands and feet frequently to prevent dry skin, cracking, and wound infections. Any open wounds need to be cared for by a physician and proper wound care, like dressing changes and cleanliness, needs to be practiced when at home.