Blisters, aside from being unsightly, can be painful. They are very common and typically are easy to treat. Most people have had a blister at one time or another. Blisters commonly form on the feet or hands and are usually the result of rubbing or pressure concentrated to a specific area, like upon wearing a new pair of shoes for the day. Blisters may also be the result of a virus or other skin condition.
Blisters are elevated bumps upon the skin that are filled with a liquid substance. The clear fluid inside the blister is known as serum. The serum starts to collect inside the raised skin as a result of the surrounding tissue excreting liquid in response to the skin being irritated or wounded. The serum is used as a protective cushion to prevent the skin from additional rubbing or friction.
Typically, blisters appear as oval or round fluid-filled bubbles that develop on the skin. Blisters do not always cause symptoms, but individuals may get a warning that a blister is about to develop by noticing a warm or red spot on the area of the skin that has received the irritation or pressure. Symptoms that are associated with blisters are generally dependent on the underlying cause of the blister. Common symptoms of blisters include:
The majority of blisters that develop are caused by friction or pressure on the skin due to excessive, repeated rubbing. There are many other causes for the development of blisters including:
- Skin Irritation. Blisters as a result of a skin irritation can come from a variety of different sources, such as ill-fitting shoes, using tools or equipment without protective gloves, playing sports, being exposed to irritating chemicals that come in contact with the skin and being exposed to extreme weather conditions such as excessive cold or heat.
- Allergy. Sometimes, blisters can form as a result of an allergic reaction to a substance that comes in contact with the skin. This is known as contact dermatitis. The condition can be the result of a chemical or poison irritation such as poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac.
- Infections. Many blisters form as a result of some type of infection, such as impetigo, which is caused by bacteria. Additionally, viral infections can produce blisters. Viral infections such as herpes, chickenpox, shingles and the Coxsackie virus are all characterized by the development of blisters on the skin.
- Skin Disease. Many skin diseases can cause blisters to develop. Conditions such as dermatitis herpetiformis produce blisters, as do inherited diseases like those that cause blisters as a result of trauma to the skin (epidermolysis bullosa) or blisters from sun exposure (porphyria cutanea tarda).
- Medications. Certain medications may lead to blistering on the skin. Other medications can make the skin prone to blistering upon sun exposure. In very severe cases, some medications can cause more than 30% of the skin to erupt in blisters, a condition which may be life-threatening.
There are certain behaviors which may increase your chances of developing the common blister. Risk factors associated with the development of blisters include:
- Wearing ill-fitting shoes
- Not wearing gloves when handling tools
- Not understanding the warning signs and changing movement to lessen friction to the specified area
- Not using socks, bandages, or extra cushion in areas that are exposed to repeated rubbing or friction
Typically, it is best to simply leave the blister alone. In time, the blister will usually heal itself. The liquid-filled bubble that is a blister acts as a protective barrier for the skin beneath it; therefore popping a blister may put you at risk for developing an infection. When allowing a blister to heal on its own, the following tips may be helpful:
- Cover the blister with a bandage or protective covering
- The liquid within the blister will reabsorb into the skin and eventually the skin will return to its flat state
- If the blister pops, be sure to wash it with soapy water and cover it with a bandage
Generally, it is not recommended to break a blister unless it is causing you great pain or inhibiting your ability to walk or use your hands. If you are a diabetic or have circulation problems, do not attempt to treat your blisters at home without consulting a doctor first. To relieve pain associated with a blister without destroying the protective layer, you will need to drain the fluid. Some simple precautions to take when draining a blister include:
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water
- Wash the blister with soap and water
- Gently wipe the blister with alcohol or iodine
- Locate a clean sharp needle and wipe with alcohol to sterilize it
- Puncture the outer layer of the blister gently with the needle in several spots near the blisters border, allowing the fluid to seep out, but leaving the outer layer intact
- Cover the area in a thin layer of antibiotic cream and then cover with a bandage.
- After several days, use sterilized scissors and a tweezers to remove any dead skin.
- Reapply antibiotic cream and recover with a bandage.
If you have a blister and intend to break it open, don’t do so if you have diabetes. Contact your doctor if your blister shows any signs of infection such as pus, redness, and hot skin around the area, or an increase in the pain associated with the blister.
Blisters are common and many people have are susceptible to developing them. The most common way to get a blister is from repeated rubbing or friction applied to a specific area. The most common place to get a blister is on the hands and feet. Blisters can develop in other areas and can be the result of many causes, such as infection, or skin disease. Most blisters require no treatment and will heal on their own.