How to Treat Blisters and Deal with Recovery
How to Deal with Blisters
Why am I writing an article on the unpleasant subject of how to deal with blisters? Well, in my effort to write more, I've been writing about whatever comes to me, and they (unfortunately) came to me.
I was taking a walk through the beautiful Peninsula hills, as I do fairly often, but for some reason this time I walked without socks. I haven't the faintest idea why I didn't just spare 30 seconds to pull them on, but I didn't. My reward was a lovely collection of blisters on both of my feet. Woohoo.
As I spent the rest of the week not walking around, I decided to write instead. Seeing as it's thanks to these that I'm being a productive writer in the first place, I am honoring them with their own post. (Warning: there are many pictures of blisters in this article. Just so you know. Don't want to make you lose your lunch.)
In this article, I'll cover what blisters are and what they look like, followed by how to prevent them and how to treat them. If you take care of them correctly, it usually will heal quite rapidly on its own. I hope fellow and future patients find this useful, and best of luck on your recovery!
What are Blisters?
A blister is a patch of skin that swells out in a bubble filled with fluid, due to some sort of damage like friction, burning, or exposure to chemicals.
They are most common on feet and hands, but they can occur anywhere on the body exposed to harsh enough conditions. They look like little balloons or pockets of fluid, and may or may not be painful. They can be large, but they usually are concentrated in an area that you'll likely feel before you see, as the most common kind is a friction blister. There are ways to prevent them before they occur (thankfully!), but I'll write about those later.
Bruise, Not Blister
If your entire foot (or other body part) hurts and you see no distinct bubbles or pockets, it's more likely that you have a rash or your feet are simply sore. A patch of darkened skin, due to breaking of blood capillaries near the surface, is not a blister—it's a bruise. Look very, very carefully at the picture abovet. Please do not try to cure your bruises with these methods. It will not work.
Most blisters just appear as bubbles of clear fluid. However, blood blisters, usually caused by some sort of pinching action, appear as bubbles of dark red. Infected ones often look cloudy and will usually be quite painful to touch, as the skin will already have broken.
Picture of Burn Blister
How Blisters Form and How to Prevent Them
Blisters can form in a variety of ways, but here I'll list the three most common ones, as well as some ways to prevent them.
1.) Temperature. Extreme temperatures can cause very serious blistering. They are a characteristic symptom of burns, and even first-degree burns can result in blistering after a couple of days. Conversely, frostbite can be cause as well, usually on the extremities that are most exposed, as well as most used. Most burns can be prevented using caution and common sense, but it's often a good idea to wear gloves for both extreme heat and cold.
2.) Violent pinching or squeezing. This is the most common cause of blood blisters. When a fairly large blood vessel (larger than the smallest ones) bursts but the skin isn't broken, the blood and lymph can well into unpleasant blood blisters. The best—and really only—way to avoid blisters from trauma is simply to be careful when operating machinery and be aware of your surroundings if you are in a dangerous zone.
If the pinching is caused by shoes that are too tight or don't fit well even after breaking them in, consider buying a new pair of shoes. If that isn't possible, wear thick but light socks that breathe easily and try affixing soft cloth or foam to the spots that rub your feet.
3.) Intense friction. Blisters are most often caused by tasks that rub some patches repetitively, like raking leaves or taking long walks in ill-fitting shoes. Put a comfortable layer between you and the object that rubs your skin. For shoes, wear socks that breathe and be sure your feet are not damp. Moist skin is more susceptible than dry skin.
How do Blisters Work?
They begin forming with some sort of trauma, like a burn or rubbing from ill-fitting shoes. The irritated layers of skin separate from the layers underneath. Because loose skin is a disaster waiting to happen, the body reduces any friction the wounded area might encounter by filling the space between the layers with a fluid, called plasma or serum.
The plasma is not pus. It does not necessarily indicate an infection. In fact, only ones that are very painful, red around the edges, swollen, or colorful and cloudy are infected.
Pictures of (my) feet blisters
How to Deal with Blisters
There are many methods available to treat them, but that doesn't mean you personally have a lot of options. By that I mean most of the large variety of methods are all targeted towards a different variety of blister. Not all methods are best for any specific one.
One that can be left alone (i.e. not walked on) and is not infected is fairly easy to handle. In this case, if at all possible, do not pop it. It will heal faster naturally and the raw skin underneath won't be exposed to the random things floating about in the air. I've heard warming it can help it heal faster, but be careful not to burn yourself and further damage your skin.
Infection or Open Blister
If it is infected or accidentally popped, disinfect the area with alcohol or cleansing creams. Do not remove the skin; it will serve as a natural barrier. In the case of an infected blister, there is most likely already a hole in it, so gently press down and squeeze out as much of the fluid as possible. If it is fairly large, clean a needle by dipping it in cleansing alcohol or running it through a match until it's red-hot. Then carefully run it through any layers underneath that also look infected, and gently remove all of the fluid from there as well. Repeat until all or most of the fluid is gone, and do this whenever it seems necessary.
Picture of Hand Blisters
Should You Pop It? Only if You Must
If You Must, How to Pop a Blister
The trickiest scenario is treating a blister that is about to pop, because it's in an area that you'll need to use. The biggest threat here is an infection, so please do not remove the top layers of skin.
If it's at all possible, see if you can find a way to avoid bursting it. If it is at the bottom of your foot, you can try cutting a "donut hole" support: a piece of cloth or foam that shares the depth of the blister, but leaves a hole big enough for the blister to rest there. This is a good solution for someone who simply needs to walk somewhere.
However, if you need to run on it or do something else that will basically guarantee it will pop, your best bet is to pop it early in a sanitized environment. First and foremost, clean the area around the blister. Next, grab a needle and run through either cleansing alcohol or a match (wait till it's red hot). Then carefully pierce it a few times around the base and gently press down to drain the fluid. Do not remove the skin on top: It will serve as a natural barrier against infection.
There is another method that I've heard of, but just so you know, I have not tested it. You have been duly warned! Thread a needle and sanitize it like above. Pierce the blister through, on both sides, pulling the thread through. Cut the thread on both sides, leaving enough to clearly see the thread.
This will allow it to dry out with less exposure. Usually drying out is a bad thing, but it heals better versus popping it violently while running or doing another activity. As long as you keep it sanitary there should be no problems. Put a loose bandage or duct tape over the blister. It's vastly preferable to having it rupture later.
Final Notes on Recovery
Wearing a loose bandage or covering the blister loosely will help when walking (assuming it's on your foot). Leave it in the open air as much as possible. If it is on your hands, avoid handling things that risk tearing the top layer of skin off. Keep antibiotics and disinfectants available for open blisters.