Type 1 Diabetes and Foot Health

After an especially long winter, it’s finally time to enjoy the warmer weather, get out the flip flops, and enjoy the great outdoors! It’s also a common time for kids and families with diabetes to ask questions about foot health. Many of us know someone who suffers from diabetic neuropathy, a complication of diabetes. Thankfully, it’s rare for kids with diabetes to have foot problems, but it’s a good time of year to pay more attention to their feet and learn how to prevent problems down the road.

What is diabetic neuropathy?

Diabetes can cause high sugar levels over many years. which damages the tiny blood vessels in our bodies. These tiny blood vessels are found at the tips of our fingers and toes, as well as in the eyes and kidneys. This damage affects the nerves in these areas because they don’t get enough blood flow, and when the nerves stop working normally, this is diabetic neuropathy. This condition is rare in kids, but if it happens, it can lead to numbness, difficulty walking and dangerous infections.

Here are some things for parents of children with diabetes to do to keep their child’s feet healthy:

 Manage their diabetes

The most effective way to lower your child’s risk for diabetic nephropathy is to improve their overall diabetes control. This includes: checking sugar levels regularly, giving insulin regularly, seeing their diabetes provider at least four times a year and frequently adjusting their insulin regimen in response to patterns of high or low blood sugars.

Remember their annual foot exam

We recommend a foot exam about once a year, starting when kids are in puberty. This is an opportunity to learn what their feet can do. We check how well their feet can feel touch and vibration, and if their toes know if they are up or down.

Encourage physical activity

Physically fit children have a lower risk for many of the complications of diabetes, including diabetic neuropathy. Try to fit in short periods of time in your child’s day where they are moving their body. Ten minutes of sweating here and there will add up to a healthier child. If you’re looking for ways to improve your child’s fitness and nutrition, consider a visit to our fitness clinic (uwhealthkids.org/fitness).

Don’t smoke

Teens with diabetes who smoke, or are frequently exposed to smoke, have a higher risk for diabetic neuropathy, which is another reason to avoid starting this habit.

Keep toenails trimmed

Untrimmed toenails put a child at a greater risk of ingrown toenails. A great time to cut toenails is after a bath or shower, when they are soft. Trim them straight across and file the edges, but don’t cut them so short that you create sores. This is also an easy time to look for blisters, red spots, sores or swelling. If you see something out of the ordinary, contact your doctor. The longer foot issues go untreated, the more problems they can cause.

Now you know a lot more about how to keep your feet healthy, and you can go outside, move your body and enjoy the warmer weather! 

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