Wound Care Articles and Insights
February 26, 2024

Winter Wellness for Diabetics: Protecting Your Feet and Health

Kallie Christensen

Winter can bring mixed emotions. Some might crave cozy nights by the fireplace, bundled in warm blankets. Some eagerly anticipate the chance to be outdoors; hitting the slopes or ice skating at the local rink. For others, the biting cold, slippery sidewalks, and reduced daylight may make them tend toward hibernation.

For diabetics and those with nerve damage to the hands and feet, known as peripheral neuropathy, no matter if you love the winter months or simply endure them, there are some things you can do to stay safe in the winter.

When Outdoors:

  1. Always wear properly-fitted and padded winter shoes. Properly fitting footwear reduces the risk of ulcers and frostbite. It is especially important to keep the feet dry. If skin is wet for too long, the skin will become fragile enough to tear or blister.
    If needed, ask your physician about special diabetic shoes, custom inserts and special socks to keep your feet healthy, allowing you to remain active.
  2. Dress appropriately: In cold climates, ensure you have a warm coat, hat, scarf, and especially warm socks and gloves to keep your hands and feet covered as much as possible.
  3. Limit outdoor time: A brisk walk and fresh air is good for everyone, but for those with neuropathy, hands and feet will be especially impacted as the body slows blood circulation to preserve its core temperature. Reduced blood flow can further damage nerves. Alternate between being outside and taking indoor breaks when possible.
  4. Be extra careful on slippery surfaces. Already present nerve damage, foot problems, and reduced vision can increase your risk of falling. 
  5. Be cautious using hot tubs. Ensure they are not too hot and beware of dizziness which might lead to a fall.
  6. Be careful sitting too close to campfires. Feet and legs can easily burn if not monitored. Remember that heat can travel through the bottom of a boot.
  7. Keep your medicines, supplies, and equipment away from extreme cold. Insulin is sensitive to temperatures. Keep it cool but don’t let it freeze. Insulin freezes at around 32°F (0°C), and frozen insulin doesn’t work anymore, even when thawed. The cold can also damage insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors. CDC-Managing Diabetes in Cold Weather

When Indoors:

  1. Examine Feet Daily: Examine the tops and bottoms of your feet each day and keep your toenails clipped straight across and filed. If you are unable to examine your feet on your own, have a caregiver assist.
  2. Use appropriate dressings & antibiotic cream: If you have a foot wound of any kind, clean it and apply a sterile bandage to cover it, and call your physician’s office for guidance
  3. Moisturize: Moisturizing will prevent itching and dryness, which might lead to cracks that are prone to infection.
  4. Beware of all heat sources. Feet and legs can easily burn if not monitored. 

            a) Do not sit too close to fireplaces
            b) Be very careful of heat radiating from a space heater
            c) Electric blankets, foot warmers, and heating pads can all cause burns
            d) A nice hot cup of tea can be soothing, but take care not to spill
            e) A soothing bath can ease the chill in the air, but always remember to test the water temperature.
  5. Stay active. It is recommended, after consultation with your doctor, that most people exercise for at least 30 minutes a day. If you can’t or choose not to go outside, try yoga, tai-chi, or at home workouts. Exercise aids circulation and can also help your mood, avoiding the winter blues.
  6. Maintain your diet and stay hydrated. Do not smoke and limit alcohol intake. It is easy to reach for extra snacks and treats during the colder months but year round, indoor and out, nutrition and hydration play a vital role in the healing process.
  7. Monitor your blood sugar. All year long, one of the best things you can do to manage your diabetes is to track blood sugar levels. Check your blood sugar levels throughout the day with a meter. 
  8. In case of bad weather or a snowstorm, ensure you have enough medication and supplies to properly manage your diabetes.

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