For people living with diabetes, foot ulcers are a common problem with real risks. Ulcers are the result of skin tissue breaking down to expose the layers underneath. They are painful, unsightly, and can lead to infection and even amputation. With the stakes so high, it’s surprising that many people don’t seek treatment before it’s too late. But the many myths surrounding foot ulcers can help explain why.
What Causes Foot Ulcers?
Foot ulcers are a very common complication of diabetes. If your diabetes is not being managed through diet, exercise, and a proper insulin regime, you are at high risk of developing ulcers.
Foot ulcers are most commonly found under the big toes and on the balls of the feet. They can affect the feet, even down to the bone. Treatment varies for foot ulcers, but the earlier the intervention, the better chance you have of a full recovery.
Diagnosing a Foot Ulcer
There are a few different symptoms of a foot ulcer, but one of the first you might notice is drainage that stains your socks or the inside of your shoe. Beyond this, you will likely notice swelling, redness, irritation, and odor from one or both feet.
If an ulcer has progressed, you will see a black ring around the ulcer—skin tissue known as eschar. This is the result of unhealthy blood flow around the ulcer and means the wound is worsening. Gangrene can also appear around the ulcer. This tissue death will cause pain, numbness, and discharge with a distinct odor.
Due to how quickly a foot ulcer can develop and escalate into a serious issue, it’s important to see a doctor as soon as possible if you notice the signs and symptoms. However, some myths surrounding foot ulcers cause many to delay vital treatment.
Myth# 1: Sedentary People Don’t Need to Worry About Foot Ulcers
While it might seem logical that more active individuals will develop foot ulcers, it simply isn’t true. While foot ulcers can be caused by injury or the contact friction from running shoes or exercise-related activities, they can actually happen to anyone. Two of the most common causes of foot ulcers are:
- Minor scrapes or cuts
- Ill-fitting shoes
Even if you live a sedentary life, you can easily get a scrape or cut on your feet. You could accidentally bump your foot into a piece of furniture or step on an object that causes an abrasion or gash. If an ulcer develops, it’s important to get it checked by a podiatrist, especially if you have diabetes.
Ill-fitting shoes is also a common cause of foot ulcers. Dress shoes, sneakers for errands, work pumps, and even the wrong kind of house slipper can all cause irritation and injury if they are too tight and rub against the skin.
Avoid the development of foot ulcers by always wearing comfortable, breathable shoes. You can also check your feet regularly for any signs of trauma, bruises, cuts, scrapes, or unusual rashes.
Myth #2: If It Doesn’t Hurt, Don’t Worry About It
Anyone who has lived with diabetes long enough knows that one of its side effects is loss of sensation in the hands and feet. Poor circulation and/or peripheral neuropathy can cause this loss of feeling. A diabetic patient may not feel an injury, and, consequently, not realize an ulcer has developed because they did not feel any pain.
That’s why it’s important to do a foot self-exam every day to look for skin abnormalities, sores, breaks, and any other developing problems.
Myth #3: Wounds Need Air to Heal
This is actually an old wives’ tale that may cause many diabetic patients health complications. Air exposure can actually be detrimental to the healing of a wound. Recent studies have determined that a moist wound will actually heal up to five times faster than a dry wound. For this reason, foot injuries should receive a topical medication and be covered up with a bandage until it is healed.
Myth #4: Soaking a Wound Helps It to Heal
Some moisture does in fact help wounds—showering is a great example. It rinses away bacteria and properly cleans the wound for ointment application. But soaking an open wound is not the same. Whether you use a bath, hot tub, or a basin of water, soaking a wound will actually expose it to bacteria. Instead, rinse the wound in the shower and thoroughly dry the area.
Myth #5: Disinfect Foot Wounds With Alcohol
It’s never a good idea to clean a diabetic wound with alcohol or hydrogen peroxide because the skin in the area is either gone completely or very sensitive, and alcohol-based solutions are too harsh for the skin. Long-term use can actually kill both healthy and unhealthy cells, which in turn will slow wound healing. Choose soap and water instead.
Myth #6: Wait and See How the Wound Progresses Before Visiting a Doctor
Out of all the myths about foot ulcers, the “wait and see” method is the most troublesome. If you suspect you have a foot ulcer, early intervention is best. A podiatrist prefers to treat ulcers in their very early stages. A wound that has progressed to infection can lead to serious complications and tough decisions, including amputation.
Are You Looking for Foot Care in Austin, TX?
If you are looking for foot care, you should reach out to an experienced podiatrist. Austin Foot and Ankle Specialists can help. Our office provides a wide variety of advanced, effective treatment options for all kinds of painful conditions. Ready to schedule an appointment? Contact us online or call our Austin office at 512.328.8900.