How to care for a blister can be confusing, as well as painful. While it is best to prevent blisters before they start, treating them properly is essential to a fast healing process.
Learn how to prevent these painful sores before they start and reduce the risk of troublesome infections.
What is a Blister?
Blisters are a very common type of sore that forms just under the top layer of the skin. This layer, called the epidermis, is at the surface and protects the deeper layers of skin and soft tissues below. The lower layers of the skin include the dermis layer (home of your sweat glands), the subcutaneous layer (home to fat cells and blood vessels), all of which cover your muscle tissue.
The epidermis layer is the layer of skin that you can see. While it is very thin on some parts of the body like your eyelids, the epidermis can be very thick and tough in some places that get the most wear and tear.
Blisters range from mild to severe and can be very painful. Dermatologists find that blisters can occur anywhere but fortunately, they most commonly occur on areas of the body where the epidermis is the thickest.
What Causes Blisters?
Oftentimes, blisters will form during your most favorite activities including playing the guitar, running or walking. Repetitive friction and rubbing are the most common causes of a blister and that is why most people will get these pus-filled bubbles on their hands and feet. While friction blisters are the most common type, blood blisters and heat associated blisters are also very common.
When blisters form, a small pocket of fluid forms just under the upper layer of the epidermis. This clear fluid is usually caused by excess stress on the epidermis, and is a result of an area of the skin tearing away from the deeper layers of connective skin tissue below it.
The clear fluid is made of plasma, produced by skin cells. The plasma fluid helps to protect healthy cells, and promote the growth of new cells in the epidermal layers.
Here are the 5 most common ways blisters form:
- Friction. This is the most common cause of blisters that form on the hands and feet. Damp conditions will increase the likelihood of developing a blister, so it is recommended that you always keep your socks and shoes as dry as possible when walking, hiking and running.
Repetitive abrasion, rubbing, and chafing in the same place can also cause them. Improperly fitted clothing can also cause a blister very quickly. To prevent blister from forming, check out our piece on how to choose the best hiking shoes for wide feet to learn more.
- Extreme Temperatures. First and second-degree burns often cause skin blistering. At the time when the skin is exposed to extreme heat or cold, the epidermis becomes irritated and may blister immediately. For some types of second-degree burns, it may take a few days before the blisters form. Tissue damage caused by frostbite will also cause blistering.
- Chemicals. There are many different types of dangerous chemicals out there that can irritate the skin enough to cause blisters. The sensitive upper layer of your skin may respond with blistering upon contact with cosmetics, detergents, solvents, sulfates, as well as natural toxins from poison oak or ivy. Some chemical vapors can also cause moderate to severe blistering. Be cautious around any industrial site, as chemical vapors can be colorless and odorless.
- Pinching & Bruising. Blood blisters can form if a blood vessel under the skin is pinched or bruised. Rupturing or disturbing a blood vessel in the epidermis can cause blood to leak into a tear under the skin. Any aggressive behavior can cause this to happen.
- Specific Medical Conditions. Numerous medical conditions can cause blistering. The most common include chickenpox, herpes, impetigo and eczema.
How Can I Prevent a Blister?
Preventing a blister from forming is much easier, and far less painful to do than to heal one. Prevent painful blisters before they start with these 5 tips:
- Keep Your Feet Dry. One of the main reasons people get blisters in the first place is that they allow moisture to accumulate on their feet. Moisture-wicking socks are the best way to prevent this issue, but alternatively you may opt for just wearing very tick socks, or two pair.
- Purchase The Right Size. It’s recommended that you buy sandals, running shoes or hiking boots that are a little larger in size so that you can avoid getting blisters. The kicker is that any clothing that is too small or too large can cause a blister due to the friction.
- Use Additional Padding. Soft bandages are a great way to prevent the friction that causes most blisters on the feet, thighs, or hands. If you feel that any activity you enjoy will include reoccurring rubbing in one place, consider padding that area with a small bandage.
- Apply Ointment. Petroleum jelly can help to reduce friction in problem areas. Use this or any type of personal care powder you prefer to reduce chafing. Just don’t use talcum! Not only is it a known carcinogen, but it also absorbs moisture making it useless for long durations.
Anti-perspirants are also helpful for preventing blisters as they help to reduce moisture. Apply to feet before putting on shoes or to your hands under gloves.
- Stop Any Activity That Causes Friction. If you notice that an activity you are participating in is causing repeated friction in the same place, and you feel pain associated with that – STOP! Do not continue the activity if at all possible, or quickly find a way to eliminate that rubbing in the area. This is the best way to avoid causing a blister.
Do check out our piece on how to choose between hiking shoes and hiking boots for a comfortable fit.
What Can I Do if I Get a Blister?
Blisters are very common and will rarely require medical attention. However, there are instances where blisters will be so severe that your body will need help in the healing process.
If you do get a blister, DO NOT pop it. That clear plasma fluid is there to be absorbed into the body by developing skin cells. Just let the swelling slowly subside, unless the blister is too painful to endure. Opening a blister only makes it more likely to cause an infection.
Here are some tips to treating your blister until it heals.
- Cover It. By protecting the blister from popping, you can speed up the healing process. Cover the area with a sterile, breathable bandage. If possible, bring the sides of the bandage together, so that you create a small pocket over the affected area, allowing the blister space to move. You don’t want to add even more friction to an already sensitive area.
- Try Padding. In order to prevent damage to the plasma fluid under the bubble, you need to protect the blister from pressure. In areas such as the bottom of your feet or the palms of your hands, you may need to add padding to the dressing in a donut shape. Simply create this shape with breathable gauze pads so that you can apply the padding to the bubble without popping the blister.
- Disinfect the Area. Always use an anti-bacterial agent to disinfect the area. If your blister does pop, or you decide to drain the fluid out, be sure to leave the “roof’ of the blister intact. This protects the skin underneath as it grows, and heals the wound.
Draining a blister is not advised. However, if you do decide to burst the blister, follow these suggestions to avoid causing pain and/or an infection:
- Do not peel off left-behind skin. Let your body heal on its own. If you burst the blister or it tears off, just leave the skin pocket intact, as it will prevent any bacteria from entering the sore.
- Clean the wound with an antibacterial spray, or wipe and don’t forget to dress the area with a Band-Aid or gauze pad to prevent any irritants from entering the sore.
- Always use ouch-free tape with your dressing so you do not accidentally rip off the skin sack.
- Change the dressing daily and allow the sore time to breathe if possible. Excess moisture is a fast way to cause an infection, and lengthen the healing process.
How Can I Heal a Blister?
Prevention is the best approach to blisters, but if you do get one, over-the-counter medications can help to heal these painful sores.
However, they are not a naturalist’s way to treat an ailment. Here are 5 natural alternatives to conventional blister medications:
- Pure Aloe Vera Gel. The aloe vera gel that you can purchase on pharmacy shelves is NOT pure aloe vera gel if it is bright green. Real aloe vera meat is clear and the best remedy for blisters. Use a real aloe vera pant whenever possible.
Just break off a leaf, slice it open and apply the soothing gel directly to irritated, blistered skin to speed the healing process. Aloe vera gel is a natural anti-inflammatory to reduce swelling and redness, and the additional hydrating properties keep the blister moist until it heals.
- Apple Cider Vinegar. ACV is a powerful cleanser, but can sting on open wounds. As a note of caution, it is recommended that you partially dilute ACV in water before applying it to any irritated skin. Its antibacterial properties can help to prevent an infection, but is best applied with a cotton swab.
- Tea. Black, green and white tea all contain powerful anti-inflammatory compounds that reduce swelling. First steep the tea bag in hot water to release the chemical compounds, then allow the bag to cool before applying the bag to your blister. This should help to reduce swelling, pain and irritation.
- Egg White. Whipping a small amount of egg whites makes them light and fluffy so that you can easily apply the mixture to a blister. It may sound strange but the range of nutrients found in eggs include all of the essential and non-essential amino acids needed for the growth of new skin tissue.
Applying a thin layer of whipped egg whites to the affected area helps to speed the healing process, and when chilled, can also reduce swelling.
- Tea Tree Essential Oil. Tea tree oil is a very effective antibacterial astringent that can quickly dry up a blister bubble. As a note of caution, always dilute the essential oil in a carrier oil first (such as olive oil) to reduce the potency of the oil.
Tea tree is highly aromatic and can be overpowering for some people. Additionally, if you apply it undiluted to broken skin, it will burn.
When To Seek Medical Attention
Most blisters will not require that you see a doctor for treatment, but if you suspect your blister may have become infected, is increasing in swelling, is weeping yellow, green or smelly fluid, continues to develop other blisters around the initial site, or is caused by a severe burn – seek medical attention as soon as possible.
If you seek out the care of your health practitioner, here is what you can expect…
- Drainage of the clear fluid from the bubble
- Dressing of the area, with advanced padding techniques
- Antibacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral preparations
- Application of antibiotics to treat any infection
- Treatment for allergies
A Quick Recap
The best way to care for a blister is not to get one in the first place. Those painful bubbles take time to heal and can be very tricky, especially because they tend to occur in places where you will cause day-to-day friction.
Follow these tips to prevent a blister and avoid get those buggers before they start!
- Always wear property fitted clothes
- Wear moisture-wicking clothing whenever possible
- Always purchase heavy-duty gloves that will not irritate your hands
- Use sportswear when possible to reduce chaffing
- Apply anti-perspirant or ointment inside shoes
- Be cautious when working around chemicals, or vapors
- Always apply sunscreen to avoid sunburns
- Change damp clothing often
- If you become aware of a “hot’ spot on your foot, stop and tape the area immediately
One of the best ways to prevent blisters is to familiarize yourself with “hot” areas.
This means that you identify that feeling of irritation, and stop the activity before you cause damage to the skin. If you are able to become aware of these areas, it is much easier to identify when a blister is forming. If you do not familiarize yourself with “hot” spots, it will be harder to prevent them.
To find out how to select the top snow boots for men, read our piece on this timely topic.
Have any other methods that have proven to get rid of your blisters? Feel free to share your stories with us in the comments section below.