Blisters: The Cause & Treatment

A Blister can be defined as tender, swollen, sacs of the skin of different dimensions that are full of fluid or blood. These blisters are caused due to constant rubbing or irritation. If the rubbing or friction continues unchecked, it may affect the small blood vessels which cause what is called ‘blood blister’

They are typically caused by:

  • excessive rubbing (friction)
  • burning
  • freezing
  • chemical exposure
  • medication
  • or infection

Generally, blisters are filled with a clear fluid, either serum or plasma. Sometimes, they can be filled with blood (known as “blood blisters”) or with pus if infected, as seen with the picture below:

To heal properly, a blister should not be popped unless it is deemed medically necessary. Once popped, the excess skin should not be removed because the skin underneath needs that top layer to heal properly. This can be seen in the below picture. Apply a clean sterile dressing that can cover the affected area adequately.

Causes of Blisters

blister could form when the skin has been damaged by rubbing, heat, cold, or chemical exposure. Fluid collects between the upper layer of the skin and the layers below. This fluid cushions the tissue underneath, protecting it from further damage and allowing it to heal.

1. Friction or rubbing

Intense rubbing can cause a blister and friction blisters are by far the most common. A blister may develop after walking long distances or from wearing ill-fitting shoes. Blisters typically develop on the hands and feet and more easily on moist skin than on dry. Calluses (thick skin) tend to develop when there is rubbing over long periods of time and generally over bony areas. In certain people who have reduced nerve sensations or blood flow to an area, blisters and calluses can cause ulcerations and infection if they are not monitored closely.

2. Extreme temperature

A blister caused by burning.

First and second degree burns may result in blistered skin; however, it is characteristic of second degree burns to blister immediately, whereas first degree burns can have blisters after a couple of days. Severe sunburn can also cause similar effects.

Blisters can also form on the hands and feet as a result of tissue damage incurred by frostbite.

3. Chemical exposure

Sometimes, the skin will blister when it comes into contact with a certain chemical or certain plant species (poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac) and the term for this is contact dermatitis. An allergic reaction to an insect bite or sting could also result in the formation of a blister.

4. Crushing/pinching

A blood blister usually forms when a minute blood vessel close to the surface of the skin ruptures (breaks), and blood leaks into a tear between the layers of skin. This can happen if the skin is crushed, pinched or aggressively squeezed.

Sometimes the tips of toes can form pinch blisters which eventually harden and form hard skin.

5. Medical conditions

There are also a variety of medical conditions that cause blisters such as:
• chickenpox
• herpes
• impetigo
• form of eczema called dyshidrosis.

Some anti-cancer medications can have the side effect of causing painful blistering.

Blisters Treatment

Here are 6 ways to prevent blisters

Treatment is supposed to prevent issues from forming. If you keep on having to apply pads/ Bandaids to your feet then there is an issue present that needs to be addressed, not covered up.

The main treatment of any blister is to figure out the underlying cause. The problem with blisters is that they are sore and get worse quickly, especially if you have conditions where you can’t feel or heal right.

You need to monitor blisters to make sure that they do not get worse. Most Doctors will check out any blister to make sure that it is OK and point you in the right direction to prevent them from coming back. Below are a good overview of prevention techniques.

We know that the vast majority of foot blisters come from the rubbing of footwear.

wearing comfortable well-fitting shoes. Your shoes shouldn’t wear into your feet, they should fit well the first time. if they rub something is wrong and probably you have the wrong fit, the wrong shoe for the job you are doing, or no lace.
not wearing brand new shoes straight away. Shoes should be worn gently into what you are going to do. If you have orthotics, they have to be gently worn in and checked against your new shoes as they tend to make the shoe smaller. You should also wear around the home your new shoes and whatever you are going to wear with them- socks and orthotics. If no pain, check your feet after an hour to see if any rubbing or redness is present- indicators of problems with those shoes.

clean socks or wear sports socks that are designed to keep moisture away from the skin. Wicking technology is now available in socks to remove sweat from an area. Socks also reduce the shear force that causes rubs
keeping your feet dry and clean. If they are wet/ damp then that increases the chance of a rub. The army tested certain products and found antiperspirant sprays and power helpful in reducing damp conditions and reducing the incidence of blisters

use of rubbing alcohol to rid any areas of sweat/moisture. This is intended for quick measure treatment and works surprisingly well if you have dampness in between your toes

use padding on areas prone to rubbing. Now, this type of padding is only a temporary measure because you don’t want things stuck to your feet for a long period of time on a regular basis. A thin padding material works best and is sometimes called Molefoam which can be bought at most pharmacies. But remember that rubbing is telling you that there is a problem. remove the problem and the rubbing and blisters will reduce.

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