What are blisters? 

Blisters are a pocket of fluid in the upper skin layers and is one of the body’s responses to injury, pressure or friction. Fluid fills up between layers of the skin to protect the area of pressure and cushion it from further damage. The feet are particularly prone to blisters and are very common in physically active people. Blisters can be very painful and debilitating at times and can range in size and depth. Most cases blisters are filled with clear fluid, however, on some occasions they can be filled with blood or pus, implying that it is infected.

What causes blisters? 

A blister is usually the body’s attempt to cushion the underlying skin tissues from further damage during the healing process. Some common causes of blisters include:

  • Ill-fitting shoes
  • Friction
  • Scalds or burns
  • Severe sunburn
  • Allergic reaction to irritants
  • Viral skin infection (such as herpes/warts)
  • Fungal skin infection (such as tinea).

How to treat blisters 

In most cases, blisters rarely need medical attention and often heal quickly. However, if blisters are severe, recurrent, caused by burns or indicative of an underlying infection, you should seek medical advice as soon as possible. If you do suffer a blister, there are certain important measures to adopt to promote healing and reduce the risk of infection. These recommendations include:

  1. DO NOT pierce them – Blisters are meant to protect the skin underneath to allow it to heal. Squeezing and prodding the can result in breaking the blister, allowing a point of entry for an infection, which will only make things worse.
  2. Cover with a protective dressing and remove pressure – Blisters that have occurred due to friction may need a dressing to keep them covered up. Ensure this is soft and not too tightly placed. Try to remove as much pressure from the area as possible by changing footwear, adjusting lacing techniques and using accommodative padding.
  3. DO NOT peel dead skin – Once the blister has popped naturally, there is always the urge to pick on the edges to pull off any dead skin. Avoid this. Doing so can risk tearing the surrounding skin, slowing healing and again increasing the chance of developing an infection at the site.
  4. In case you have a blood blister, keep the area clean. If necessary, apply ice packs on the blisters to help control the pain.
  5. Antibiotics – These can be prescribed if the blister is infected. In some cases, the blister may require draining or aspiration by your Podiatrist or Doctor.

Preventing blisters

Some ways to prevent blisters include:
  • Wear shoes that fit properly. Ill-fitting shoes can cause rubbing and friction. Talk to your podiatrist about how to purchase healthy fitting shoes.
  • Keep feet as dry as possible. Wearing wet shoes, boots and socks will increase your chance of developing blisters, as wet socks can drag against your skin and lead to blisters of the feet.
  • Wear moisture-wicking socks such as sports-socks (socks that draw sweat away from your feet) or change socks twice daily if you have sweaty feet, as wet socks cause friction and rubbing.
  • If you become aware of a localised ‘hot’ area on your foot, stop your sport and tape the area immediately.
If you have a recurring blister, even after applying the recommended prevention points, it is advised you see a podiatrist. Predisposing factors such as poor foot function may increase your risk of blisters and be more difficult to address through self-care.