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Diabetics: Don’t heat the feet

| Dec. 21, 2016

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas — Winter is here and South Texas is enjoying the season while trying to stay warm. But in spite of wool socks and heavier shoes, feet might get cold and people could be tempted to warm them. Everybody, especially people with diabetes, must take caution to prevent burns.

Some diabetic patients can’t feel pain or other stimuli in their lower extremities; this is called peripheral neuropathy. Peripheral neuropathy can even occur in people without diabetes. Every year, many diabetic patients who get cold feet must be admitted to the burn unit because they end up with serious foot and leg burns after trying to warm themselves up.

This can happen in a number of ways. By laying down in front of a space heater; sitting beside an open fire (no chestnuts roasting, only their feet that were protected with boots); or hopping in a shower without realizing the water was scalding hot. All these are real examples, requiring long inpatient stays involving burn care, surgical removal of dead and damaged tissue, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, skin grafts and even amputation.

The saying that an ounce of preventions is worth a pound of cure is very appropriate. First, be aware of heat sources that could damage the soles of feet, including hot pavement in the summer. Second, use the inside of your wrist to test the water temperature - just like testing bath water for infants - when around hot water. If the water is too hot to touch with your wrist, it is too hot for your feet.

Finally, never, ever expose bare feet to a high heat source. As mentioned, heat can even travel through the bottom of a boot. The moral is if you are diabetic, don’t heat the feet!

To learn more about how people with diabetes can take care of their feet, visit https://www.cdc.gov/features/diabetesfoothealth/index.html.