The eternal dilemma: Should I drain this thing or leave it alone? In general, don’t bother blisters that are small or those that probably won’t pop on their own. They are less likely to become infected if you leave the natural covering intact, and under the sheltering cushion of fluid, the area has time to form new skin. Meanwhile, follow these tips to relieve the pain and itching and speed healing. If your blister is large, or in a spot where you can’t avoid putting pressure on it, drain it the proper way. Never pop a burn blister, though. There’s a serious risk of infection if you do.
You’ve most likely rubbed your skin the wrong way … literally. The most frequent cause of blisters is excessive friction on moist skin. As a blister forms, clear fluid accumulates in a pocket between the layers of the skin. Sometimes a small blood vessel in the area is damaged, and the fluid in the blister becomes tinged with blood. These types of blisters are generally found on the hands and feet, but can occur elsewhere too. Other potential blister causes include poison ivy and oak, sunburn and other burns, and eczema and other skin conditions.
Let It Be
- Keep the blister clean with soap and water. You can dab on petroleum jelly or some other emollient to minimize further friction.
- Cover the blister with a clean bandage that you change at least once a day.Protect the blister with a piece of moleskin — a soft, adhesive cushion that’s sold in pharmacies. (Don’t worry — no real moles have been sacrificed to make this product.) Leave it on for two days, and remove it carefully so it doesn’t tear the fragile skin beneath.
- Apply calendula ointment, a product made from marigold. It’s traditionally used as a soothing wound healer. To keep the ointment clean, cover it with an adhesive bandage or a gauze pad. At night, remove the bandage so the blistered area is exposed to air.
No calendula? Smear some aloe vera gel on the blister and cover it with a bandage to help it heal. But be sure you use the pure gel of the plant. Some processed products contain ingredients, like alcohol, which have a drying effect.
- Another option for blister treatment is Preparation H. While this isn’t the normal use for the hemorrhoid reliever, the cream has ingredients that relieve itching and burning, and it provides a coating that protects the skin.
- Relieve pain and itching with a wet washcloth. Soak the cloth in cold water, wring it out, and lay it over the blister.
If It Pops by Accident …
Wash it with soap and water. Apply a healing cream or gel like Neosporin or Betadine. Cover it with a bandage. Four times a day, remove the bandage and treat the raw spot with a mixture of one part tea tree oil and three parts vegetable oil. The tea tree oil will help kill bacteria and prevent an infection.
Practice the Art of Careful Draining
If your blister is large, or in a spot where you can’t avoid putting pressure on it, you may be better off draining it rather than trying to protect it. To drain a blister properly, first sterilize a needle. Use a pair of pliers or tweezers to hold the needle over a flame for a few seconds until it glows red. Let it cool.
Clean the blister with rubbing alcohol or a disinfecting product like Betadine.
Open a sterile gauze pad and lay it gently on top of the blister. Pierce the edge of the blister, sliding the needle in sideways, and gently squeeze out the liquid by pressing down on the gauze pad. Make sure you don’t tear or remove that top layer of skin — it’s protecting an extremely sensitive circle of skin beneath.
Smear on an antibiotic ointment like Neosporin and cover it with a clean bandage. You can also cover it with a 2nd Skin Moist Burn Pad, made by Spenco. This is a moist, jellylike covering that can be cut to size and taped in place. Change it twice a day.
If the blister refills again later, drain it again the same way.
Apply a mixture of vitamin E and calendula ointment to help your skin heal faster. Vitamin E comes in gel capsules. Slice open a capsule, mix equal amounts of the vitamin and calendula oil, and smear the mixture on your blister. Reapply as needed for up to a week.
Should I Call the Doctor?
If your blister is extremely large — more than two inches across — you should seek medical care. Symptoms of infection should also send you to the doctor. These include prolonged pain that isn’t fading, fever, redness that extends beyond the borders of the blister, yellow crusting, and oozing pus. Some disorders that cause blisters, such as chicken pox, eczema, and impetigo, also may require a doctor’s care.
The Power of Prevention
- Don’t assume you know your proper shoe size or that your feet haven’t changed since you last bought shoes. Have your feet measured every time you buy. And when you try on shoes, be sure you’re wearing the same kind of socks you normally wear.
- Shop for shoes in the afternoon. Your feet swell during the day, and if you buy a pair in the morning, you might be getting a half-size too small.
- Be sure new shoes are roomy in the toe area. When you’re standing up, you should have a thumb-width of space between your longest toe and the end of your shoe.
- For long walks or hikes, try wearing two pairs of socks to reduce friction. The inner pair should be a thin, sweat-wicking fabric like acrylic, with an outer sock made of cotton.
- You may also want to use an antiperspirant on your feet to keep them dry. Dry feet are less likely to develop blisters.
- Cover blister-prone spots with a lubricant, such as Lube-Stick for Runners, before you go for a run.
- If you’re going to be doing yard work, you can prevent blisters on your hands by wearing work gloves. If you always get blisters when you weed the garden, even if you wear gloves, shop for a weeder with a larger handle or a cushioned grip.
- Anyone who plays racket sports will probably have to contend with hand blisters. But if they keep recurring, talk to a pro about changing the grip on your racket or wrapping it with an absorbent, soft covering.