Imagine hiking through the woods and wearing new shoes with minimal breaking in time. After a few hours on the trail, you begin to feel some pain in one area of your foot. You decide to stop for a few minutes and examine what is causing the pain. Perhaps you stepped on something invisible on the trail, which is stuck in your foot.
When you take your shoe and moisture-wicking socks off, you discover that you have a friction blister that has formed on your foot. It is likely that your relatively new hiking shoes have been rubbing on that spot for most of the last few hours and damaged the outer layer of the skin. This blister will cause you discomfort for the rest of the hike, but what can you do?
Most people have heard that most blisters should be left intact until you are in a position where you can properly care for the issue. This is applicable if you do not have the proper equipment (rubbing alcohol, lance, bandage) to pierce the blister carefully, drain the fluid, and bandage the open wound. If you are that hiker with the blister, intact is certainly the way to go until you get home.
Rogers Foot & Ankle Institute Podiatric Team in Eagle Mountain knows how annoying and painful blisters can be. The information below will help explain why these small lumps could become even bigger problems and what we can do about them.
A blister is a small, fluid-filled pocket that forms after the outer layer of skin has disintegrated, usually due to excessive rubbing or friction. That pocket is the body’s natural defense mechanism designed to prevent infection in the underlying skin. Damaged skin and a blister are uncomfortable, but a bacterial infection can be life-threatening if not managed by a medical professional.
You may find clear fluid, blood, or pus inside the fluid pocket. The last two are especially prevalent if the area does become infected. If, for instance, your blister pops while your sweaty feet are stuck in a pair of shoes for an extended period, you may be at a higher risk of developing an infection.
Some of the most common signs of a blister forming include the obvious skin bubble with fluid inside it, redness, pain, and itching. If these symptoms become severe or your blister changes colors and does not heal, it is time to talk to a doctor.
There are a few different types of foot blisters that you may have to deal with throughout your lifetime. These include:
Fever blisters are rarely found on the feet because they are commonly known as cold sores and are located on the face, usually by your mouth, nose, or fingers. They are caused by the herpes simplex virus and are red and filled with fluid. It would help if you never popped a fever blister since they are highly contagious, and popping it will likely spread it to others.
Friction blisters are probably the most common ones that you will find on your feet and toes because they are caused by repeated pressure and rubbing. This is generally the result of tight or ill-fitting shoes. Usually, a friction blister heals on its own, the fluid drains, and the outer skin bubble falls off. However, continued exposure to the friction may prevent it from healing. Pop a blister such as this is advisable if you cannot prevent it from continuously being rubbed or irritated.
A blood blister is a friction blister with blood and clear fluid in the bubble. They begin as red color (from the blood coming from the broken blood vessel under the skin) but will turn purple over time. They should be handled similarly to the regular friction blister.
When skin is exposed to intense flame or extreme cold, blisters may form to prevent infection. When excessive blisters form on your skin, it’s usually because of very intense heat or cold. The doctor will likely be attending to the area and advise you on how best to handle these pesky stickers.
There are other situations such as bee stings or medical conditions like dyshidrotic eczema that may also cause blisters. You should seek medical treatment for these situations to relieve discomfort and pain.
If your blisters are caused by friction – like in the hiking boot example – the situation will determine if it is a good time to pop the blister or not. If you have a first aid kit that includes a sterilized scalpel, rubbing alcohol, antibiotic ointment, and bandages, it may be helpful to you for the rest of your hike to take care of the blister out in the field.
If, however, you do not have that equipment or you will be trudging through something like a river or wet terrain, you may run the risk of getting an infection in the open wound since the bandage will become soiled. In this scenario, you will likely want to wait to pop it.
If you have decided that you will pop your blister, be sure you start in a clean and sterile environment. Make sure your hands and feet are thoroughly cleaned before you begin. This is the best way to prevent blisters from becoming infected.
The first step will be to lance the blister using a sterile scalpel blade or needle. You may want to pierce the blister in two places to help with fluid draining. Next, you will want to apply antibiotic ointment and bandage the wound.
Once you have finished popping and treating the blister, you should keep friction and pressure off of it as much as possible. Monitor the healing process to ensure it has not become infected.
If you are dealing with a blister, dry skin, or other issues with your feet and ankles, contact our podiatrists at Rogers Foot & Ankle Institute. We understand the discomfort of dealing with blisters, and we want to make sure that you have not gotten an infection if you cannot avoid popping the blister.