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Burn Prevention and Diabetic Neuropathy

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  • Diabetic neuropathy is a nerve disorder caused by diabetes.
  • Approximately 60% of people with diabetes suffer from some form of neuropathy.
  • Peripheral neuropathy is the most common type of neuropathy. It damages the nerves of the limbs, especially the feet.
  • Common symptoms of this kind of neuropathy are:
    • Numbness or insensitivity to pain or temperature;
    • Tingling, burning, or prickling;
    • Sharp pains or cramps;
    • Extreme sensitivity to touch, even light touch;
    • Loss of balance and coordination.
  • Diabetic neuropathy may decrease sensitivity to pain and temperature, increasing the risk of burn injuries.
  • Most burn injuries, where diabetic neuropathy was a contributing factor, were due to:
    • Warming feet near a heating device or fireplace, or on a heating pad/blanket;
    • Soaking or putting feet into water that was too hot.
  • Some patients left their feet in hot water or near heat sources for several hours because they could not feel the burn occurring.
  • Prevention and early detection is vital to the treatment of peripheral neuropathy and subsequent complications.
  • Because of the loss of sensation caused by neuropathy, burns or injuries to the feet may go unnoticed and may become ulcerated.
  • While the burned area of the body may be small, complications can arise and lead to subsequent amputation.


  • Carefully examine your feet and toes daily for any burns, sores, bruises, or infections.
  • Set your home water heater’s temperature to no higher than 120°Fahrenheit.
  • Test the water temperature with your elbow/forearm before stepping in a bath.
  • Wash your feet daily, using warm (not hot) water and a mild soap. Dry your feet carefully with a soft towel, especially between the toes.
  • Avoid using heating pads or hot water bottles. Wear socks if your feet are cold or ask your physician about other methods to improve circulation.
  • To avoid friction burns, wear shoes that fit your feet well and allow your toes to move. Break in new shoes gradually, wearing them for only an hour at a time at first. Wear thick, soft socks and avoid slippery stockings, mended stockings, or stockings with seams.
  • Avoid walking barefoot, especially on hot sand or hot pavement.
  • Ask your physician to check your feet at every visit, and call your physician if you notice that a burn or sore is not healing well.

Internet Resources

Injury Prevention Service, OSDH, 1000 NE 10th Street, Oklahoma City, OK 73117
Revised January 2012

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