Blisters are pimple-like bumps on the skin that contain a clear fluid in them, and they mainly form on the hands and feet. They’re formed when layers of the skin experience repeated trauma while rubbing against each other and break. This may happen when you wear a tight fitting pair of shoes and walk or run with them for some time.
The friction from the tight fitting shoes and pressure from walking will cause shearing forces that lead to separation of the layers of skin. As a result, the skin stretches, separates, and produces watery bumps. You can also get blisters on the palm of your hands while using hand held tools or when riding a bike without wearing protective gloves.
Blisters can be very irritating and painful, and continued friction/pressure from walking/running or doing manual work will cause them to burst and leave an open wound. Blisters can make it difficult for you to walk or use your hands. Dirt and bacteria can infect open blisters and lead to other complications. It’s therefore important to know what causes blisters as well as how to prevent and get rid of them.
What Causes Blisters?
Blisters are usually filled with a clear fluid called serum or plasma. Sometimes blisters can appear red or black to indicate that they contain blood. This happens when the skin and one or more underlying small blood vessels are damaged. In this case the swellings are known as blood blisters.
Factors that cause foot blisters include:
Friction is the most common reason why blisters develop on feet and toes. This usually happens when we walk or run long distances while wearing tight or loose fitting shoes, which rub on the foot and skin to cause blisters. In most cases, the blisters form on the soles of the feet or around the heels. Foot blisters can form on the toes as well, which indicates that moist and warm conditions around the feet are the most likely cause. Moist conditions may result due to warm weather, wearing wet footwear, or increased perspiration in the feet. Whatever the cause, too much moister causes protective layers of the skin to soften, separate and form blisters. Prolonged but less intense repetitive friction on the skin can cause foot corns or calluses.
Wearing shoes in intense heat can also create favorable conditions for blisters to form on the feet. As a result, it’s advisable to wear sandals or open shoes in such conditions.
First degree burns usually develop blisters after a few days as they heal while second degree burns develop blisters immediately.
Long exposure to the sun’s ultra violet rays can lead to sunburn and result in painful blisters on the feet and other sun exposed areas.
Exposure to extremely cold temperatures below freezing point causes the blood vessels to contract and push blood away from our arms and feet in an attempt to keep the rest of the body warm. This may damage skin tissue and in turn cause blisters from frostbite, which in severe cases may lead to death. There are four stages of frostbite. Formation of blisters on the toes from frostbite is classified in the second stage.
Skin can develop blisters when in contact with certain chemicals like detergents, cosmetics and solvents. Wearing gloves when using chemicals will protect you from skin irritation.
They are some medical conditions that cause blisters such as shingles, scabies, herpes, impetigo, chickenpox, cold sores and some type of eczema.
Should You Pop Blisters?
The fluid that collects under damaged skin to form a blister actually provides cushioning or protection from further injury and allows for healing. Therefore, it’s always advisable to avoid bursting blisters so that they can heal naturally.
The only time you may attempt to pop a blister is when it becomes too large, painful or causes discomfort. You may need to puncture and drain it to get some relief, but keep in mind that the fluid keeps the skin underneath clean, prevents infection, and helps in the healing process. Should you choose to pop a blister, ensure to sterilize the needle, razor, pin or whatever sharp object you use in alcohol or a hot flame.
Although blood blisters tend to be painful, you should try as much as possible to let them heal on their own. If they burst you should keep them clean, dry and protected with a sterile dressing to prevent infection.
Home Remedies and Other Treatment Options
Blisters on the feet and toes normally heal naturally without requiring medical attention. However ways for managing and treating blisters include:
You can use a clean sterile needle to puncture the blisters and drain the fluid. Puncture holes on the edges and press the blister gently to drain the fluid. Always wash your hands before you start and afterwards or wear gloves to avoid infection. Wash the drained area, pat it dry and then cover with clean gauze. Remember to change the dressing daily to keep out bacteria.
Dress Blisters that Burst on Their Own
Large blisters will normally burst on their own and once that happens do not remove the skin and expose the blister. Instead cover the area with a sterile dressing and change the dressing daily until it heals.
Cover Swollen Blisters to Prevent Further Friction
As the blister heals, the skin will harden and gradually fall off. It’s better to leave it uncovered and avoid wearing shoes that will rub and exacerbate the situation. You can also cover the blister with gauze pad or compeed dressing pad (also known as hydrocolloid gel plaster) to protect the blister from further friction.
Avoid wearing new shoes that have caused the blisters until they’re fully healed. You can then start wearing the shoes for short periods until they soften.
Apply an Ice Pack
Applying an ice pack on the affected area immediately after the blister starts forming can help reduce pain especially when dealing with debilitating blood blisters. To prevent ice from touching your skin, place a towel over your skin.
Products That Help
Products that help in treating blisters on the feet include special dressings, compeed dressing pads, and gauze. There are different natural remedies that you can apply on the affected area before covering it with clean dressing. Some of the products might even be in your kitchen pantry while others can be bought at a natural food store. Natural remedies for treating blisters may be classified into the following groups.
Anti-Inflammatory or Astringent Remedies
As the name implies, anti-inflammatory or astringent compounds are designed to bring down the swelling on a blister. They may work in different ways, but they facilitate faster healing by promoting re-absorption of the fluid that fills up blisters.
A few good natural remedies that contain astringent or anti-inflammatory compounds include black/green tea, Aloe Vera gel, and witch hazel.
Simply dip a ball of cotton in solution containing any of these ingredients and dab it on the blister. Leave the treated area uncovered for a few minutes then pat it dry and apply dressing with gauze, moleskin or other protective cover.
Natural Anti-bacterial or Antiseptic Herbs
If your blister bursts open, then you may want to apply something natural on it to prevent infection. Tea tree oil, apple cider vinegar, and baking soda are all good treatments to prevent blisters from getting infected or worse because they have antibacterial or antiseptic properties.
Your pharmacist may prescribe an anti-bacterial ointment or solution like povidone-iodine to treat an infected blister. Antibiotics may be required as well if the infection is advanced. If your blisters are caused by an underlying medical conditions such as chickenpox, impetigo or herpes, consult your general practitioner to find out the best treatment option.
There are a few ways to prevent blisters and it’s worth your time to explore these tips to save you the inconvenience, pain, and discomfort that they can bring.
Buy Well Fitting Shoes
The easiest way to get blisters is to wear tight or loose fitting shoes and run or walk a long distance with them. Always ensure that you buy the right size of shoes or go to a running shoes specialist for analysis to get the best shoe fit.
Choose Socks Wisely
Choosing the right type of socks is important as they support our feet, keep away moisture and minimize friction that causes blisters. Avoid socks made of cotton since this fabric is known to retain sweat and moisture. The better alternative to keep your feet blister free would be socks made of Nylon. Nylon is more porous and allows moisture and air to pass through easily. Some runners prefer wicking socks, which are made from wool that pulls moisture from the feet.
Another trick to reducing friction on the feet that might work is wearing two pairs of socks. This allows friction to happen between the two layers of socks rather than your own skin and one pair of socks.
Use Products that Prevent Friction on the Soles of Your Feet
By eliminating friction on the soles of your feet, blisters can be completely prevented. One way of achieving this goal is to apply special foot powders or creams that are designed to prevent blisters. A dab of good ol’ Vaseline can keep friction to a minimum, but feel free to ask your pharmacist for other blister prevention products.
Protect Trouble Areas with Tapes and Bandages
Foot blisters tend to affect specific trouble areas such as the big toes, on the back of the heels or directly below your heel bone. Applying adhering moleskin or some other special bandages and tapes can keep those trouble areas sweat free and devoid of blisters.
Blisters caused by minor burns or friction are usually not a serious health problem. The fluid is eventually absorbed and new skin forms underneath the affected area after a few days. That said, however, blisters shouldn’t be overlooked, especially after bursting open.
Any area on the skin that has an open blister can easily get infected. When blisters get infected, they fill up with pus and may turn dark yellow. If the infected blister goes untreated, other complications may develop. For instance, infected blisters may advance into more serious skin infections such as cellulitis and secondary impetigo, a bacterial infection that is highly contagious. In very severe complications, infected blisters may lead to Sepsis, a bacterial infection in the blood or bodily tissues that can potentially cause death.
While complications from infected blisters may sound scary, the good news is that they can be avoided with proper care and treatment measures as described earlier. It is important to note that people with diabetes are more prone to developing foot blisters. As a result, individuals with this medical condition should treat blisters with great care in order to keep infections at bay.