How to Care for Foot Wounds
If you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, learning about the many and varied health complications you could develop as a result of your condition is a sobering experience. But the good news is that many of these complications can be easily avoided or managed, simply by making a few lifestyle changes, getting to know the warning signs and being vigilant of any changes in your body.
One area in which it pays to be particularly attentive is your feet. Because diabetes weakens your immune system, your body’s natural healing process is inhibited – which means wounds are slow to heal and are at risk of becoming infected. Your feet are naturally more prone to cuts, blisters and scratches, which is why it’s so important to keep them in good shape and minimise the risk of foot wounds occurring. Of course, even if you’re careful, you can still end up with the occasional scratch or two – which is why it’s important to get acquainted with foot wound care and learn how to minimise the risk of infection.
What happens if I get an infected foot wound?
Compared to other complications like heart disease or kidney failure, a foot wound might not sound that severe. However, if you have either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, a foot wound should be treated as a priority. An infected wound spells big trouble for several reasons.
Firstly, the speed with which an infection can take hold and progress is much quicker if you have diabetes. In fact, if you’ve been assessed as being at high risk of developing foot complications, an infected wound can become life threatening in a matter of days – in some cases hours. (You can learn more about how to get your risk factor assessed here. )
Secondly, because your body cannot fight infection properly, there is a much greater risk of developing further, more serious complications. In extreme cases where treatment is sought too late, gangrene can set in – this occurs when your body decides to cut off the bloody supply to your limb because the tissue is dying, and can lead to amputation. There’s also the risk of developing a systemic infection like septicaemia – a blood infection that can spread to the rest of the body and cause death.
As podiatrist Lauren Robinson explains, there are typically two types of foot wound to look out for:
“These are generally caused when the material of your shoes repeatedly rubs against your toes, heels or any bony prominences.”
Vascular or venous wounds
“These are wounds which tend to occur in the lower leg but aren’t getting better because of the lack of blood flow. They can start out as something minor like a stubbed toe or bump to the leg and progress into a nasty ulcer.”
What should I do if I notice a foot wound?
The recommended course of action varies depending on your risk category for foot-related complications.
Advice for low risk patients
“If you’re considered low risk, it’s generally safe to treat any minor cuts or scratches yourself,” Lauren advises. “Always keep a bottle of general antiseptic solution handy and apply daily to any broken skin to keep infection at bay.
“It’s also important to keep the wound covered and clean – wash the area daily and change the band-aid or dressing regularly. Even though you’re not a prime candidate for complications, it’s still wise to keep a close watch on any wounds to make sure they aren’t getting any worse. If after a few days it’s beginning to heal and there is no redness at the wound site, you should be in the clear.”
Advice for mid to high risk patients
If your risk of developing foot-related complications has been assessed as a Category 2 or 3, Lauren recommends having any wounds checked by a doctor, nurse or podiatrist as soon as possible.
“Because things can get worse quickly, it pays to be extra vigilant and get any wounds treated by a health professional. As your doctor will also have the capacity to prescribe antibiotics if necessary, they should be your first option.”
What are the symptoms that a foot infection may be present?
If you notice any of the following symptoms, it means that an infection has taken hold:
- Redness around the area
- Warm to the touch
Similarly, if you’ve had a wound for more than 12 weeks, it is considered a chronic or non-healing wound and you should seek treatment immediately.
“Learning about these risks can be quite confronting, but the key is to remember that these are all easily preventable complications,” says Lauren. “Provided you implement a regular foot care routine (which includes checking your feet on a daily basis), attend your annual foot health check and seek the appropriate treatment in a timely fashion, you should have no cause for concern.”