What to Do for Blisters
Blisters develop in areas where a section of your skin rubs against a surface, causing friction. You can also get blisters from a burn or infection, or from frostbite.
When a blister forms, fluid builds up under the top layer of your skin and produces a bubble. Usually the fluid is colorless, but in some cases the blister is filled with blood (blood blister) or pus if there is an infection. People with poor blood circulation to the feet and those who have diabetes should see a doctor or diabetic care nurse if a blister forms on a foot or toe, or the lower leg, as this can signal a dangerous complication.
The general rule for blister care for most people is not to do anything and let it heal on its own. Here are some steps you can take to help protect the area, as well as advice on when you should see a doctor and how you might prevent blisters from forming in the first place.
Almost everyone has had a blister at some point. Common causes of blisters include ill-fitting or new footwear, friction from using tools such as a garden hoe or hammer, or minor burns such as spilling hot water on yourself. Whatever the cause, doctors usually advise that you don’t touch the blister if possible. The outer layer is protecting the wound underneath and popping a blister exposes this wound to germs that could lead to infection.
If the blistered area is not exposed to further friction and can be kept clean, you may want to leave it uncovered. However, if it is in an area that may be exposed to more friction or in a spot where you can’t keep it clean, cover the blister with a dry, loose bandage. Don’t pull it tight, as you might on a cut, but leave it a bit tented to give the blister some space. As the blister heals, the fluid will get reabsorbed into the body and the blister will flatten.
You can also protect the blister with a piece of moleskin. Cut a piece larger than the blister itself. Cut a hole in the center of the moleskin slightly larger than the blister. Gently apply the moleskin to your skin. Cover both the blister and moleskin with a loose bandage.
If the blister breaks on its own, you should gently clean the area with soap and water and protect it with a bandage.
If your blister is caused by a skin condition, such as eczema, speak with your doctor about treatments should the blisters recur. You may need to apply corticosteroid cream or other medication. Blisters caused by burns may also need medical treatment.
Should You Drain a Blister?
Normally, doctors do not advise patients to pop blisters because this can lead to infection. However, there may be some situations in which popping a blister can relieve pain and pressure. Keep in mind, though, if you have diabetes or poor blood circulation in your feet, you should not pop a blister yourself and instead should contact your doctor.
If you do choose to pop a blister at home, follow these steps to drain it safely.
- Wash your hands with soap and water, and dry thoroughly.
- Gently wash the blister with soap and water. Pat dry gently; don’t rub.
- Take a clean needle and wipe it with alcohol to sterilize it. Wait for it to dry.
- Very gently, poke the needle into the blister on the edge, near the healthy skin. Do this a few times around the blister. Do not peel back the elevated dome of dead skin.
- Allow the fluid to drain. If it looks like pus, you may have an infection. Contact your doctor to determine if you need treatment.
- Dry the area by patting it gently with a clean cloth. Dab a bit of petroleum jelly over the blistered area and cover it loosely with a bandage. Keep it clean and dry.
- Check regularly for signs of infection, such as redness, increasing pain, and pus drainage.
When to See a Doctor for Blisters
Most blisters heal well on their own but there are some situations that require medical attention. Here are some common signs it’s time to see a doctor for blisters:
- You think there’s an infection.
- You have a fever.
- You are getting more blisters around the area.
- The blisters came about because of a burn, frostbite, chemical burn, or some other injury or condition.
You may have heard the term “fever blister” before, but these are not the same thing as having a fever when you have a blister, which can be a sign of infection. Fever blisters, or cold sores, are caused by a viral infection. They are made up of many tiny blisters all clustered together. It’s important not to pick at these because the virus can be easily spread.
Most blisters can be prevented by taking some simple steps.
- Ensure your shoes are well fitting. Your shoe size may change even as you age, so be sure to get remeasured every so often while shoe shopping. It’s also a good idea to buy shoes at the end of the day rather than at the start, as your feet may be a bit larger due to swelling throughout the day.
- Don’t ignore the pain and rubbing from an object. If you’re using a rake in your garden, for example, and you start to feel a blister forming on your hand or thumb, put on a pair of gloves or cover the area with a bandage or moleskin. If your shoes are causing the blister, switch shoes or protect the affected area.
- Use talc powder or petroleum jelly on vulnerable spots, to reduce friction.
You may find that some parts of your body are more prone to blisters than others. Once you know this, you can take steps to reduce the chances of blisters forming.
Blisters are more often a nuisance than a serious medical problem. By knowing proper at-home remedies, you can find safe relief from blister pain and watch for the symptoms that signal when it’s time to see your doctor.