The skin is the body’s largest organ and performs several important roles in protecting your health. Your skin acts as a barrier between the dry and potentially dangerous outside and the vulnerable inside mechanisms of our bodies. Glands associated with hair follicles produce the oils and sweat that maintain the barrier. The nervous system controls these glands and if damage occurs and the skin dries out, small cracks can occur which signifies the barrier has been broken. Moisture from beneath the skin can then leak out and lead to more cracking, which can increase the risk of infection and skin discomfort.
As we get older, we gradually lose the individual nerve fibres in our body which means that our skin cannot protect us as well and we are more susceptible to damaging factors from outside, such as dryness. Diabetes can accelerate this loss.
Damage to the small blood vessels and nerves common in people with diabetes can cause very dry skin. This can lead to small cracks in the skin. When you have dry skin, over washing, excessively hot water, exposing your skin to the sun and not moisturising can make the problem worse. To help improve the condition of dry skin:
- Use warm water rather than hot water for washing
- Use a pH balanced soap or minimise the amount of soap you use
- Limit the time you spend bathing – don’t linger as you are just washing the oils out of your skin
- Take a few extra minutes after your skin has been exposed to water and before bed, to moisturise your entire body with an intensive moisturising cream.
Choosing a Moisturiser
A good moisturiser does not have to be expensive. Sorbelene creams purchased from supermarkets and chemists are just as good as the more expensive types of ‘boutique’ moisturisers that are available. A pharmacist can advise you on suitable products.
Dry Eyes, Nose and Mouth
Your nerves control the glands that keep the mucous membranes in your eyes, nose and mouth moist and healthy. In type 1 diabetes, the immune system mistakenly attacks the beta cells in the pancreas and may also attack other parts of the body including the mucous membranes, which can cause problems.
If you suffer from:
- Dry eyes; use artificial tears and a prescribed eye cream in the evening
- A dry nose; try a saline nasal spray which will make your nose more comfortable
- A dry mouth; you may find that artificial saliva (a product available at pharmacies which can be used orally to substitute for natural saliva), simply rinsing your mouth or chewing diet gum will help to keep your saliva flowing. Diet gums usually contains sweeteners that aren’t absorbed by the body so it doesn’t affect blood glucose levels or body weight. However, if used excessively, the non-absorbed sugars ferment in the gut and can cause gas and diarrhoea, so these products should be used in moderation.
Dry membranes are not just uncomfortable; they can also lead to long-term changes in the eyes, nose and mouth which can cause further damage to these sensitive membranes.
If you are having problems with dryness to the eyes, nose or mouth, talk to your doctor who can offer further advice.