What Are Blisters?
Blister: A serum-filled bubble on the skin that is usually caused by friction.
Foot blisters are a problem that most people experience at some point during their lives. Blisters are usually caused by friction from shoes or socks rubbing repeatedly against the skin, causing friction burns. Friction blisters occur when the outer layer of skin separates from the inner layer of skin and the space between these layers fills with lymph fluid. Friction blisters can cause significant pain or discomfort and may impair a person’s ability to walk. Many types of footwear may cause friction blisters on the feet or ankles, especially if the shoes are inappropriately shaped or ill-fitting.
Factors that may contribute to skin blisters include:
Burns: Prolonged sun exposure along with exposure to radiation, flames, steam, or hot surfaces may cause skin blisters.
Irritants: Certain chemicals, cosmetics, and other toxins may cause the skin to blister. Irritant-related skin blistering usually requires direct skin contact with the offending agent or substance.
Drugs: Reactions to certain prescription medications are a common cause of skin blisters.
Health Conditions: Some autoimmune conditions—conditions in which the immune system attacks normal, healthy tissue within the body—may cause skin blisters.
Infection: Skin blisters are among the most easily observable signs of several infectious conditions, including shingles, chickenpox, cold sores, impetigo, and various fungal infections.
Friction: Friction blisters are among the most common types of skin blisters. Foot friction blisters are caused by brief and intense contact between a specific skin area and a shoe or sock. Friction blisters differ from corns and calluses in that corns and calluses occur over time and cause a thickening of the skin, whereas friction blisters develop rapidly and do not involve a thickening of the skin.
Signs & Symptoms
Some of the most commonly experienced symptoms associated with friction blisters include pain and a burning sensation in the affected area. Other signs and symptoms that may accompany skin blisters include:
- Joint pain
- Reduced appetite
- Swollen lymph nodes
- A tingling sensation that develops before the blister
What Causes Blisters?
Friction blisters develop when fluid accumulates under the skin as a direct result of one or more of the following factors:
- Shearing forces
Some helpful ways to prevent foot friction blisters include:
- Using toe socks instead of conventional socks.
- Using tape, moleskin, blister block, or various hydro gels.
- Using baby, talcum, and anti-fungal powders (including Dr. Swaim's Medicated Body & Foot Powder) to help dry out the internal environment of shoes and reduce friction.
- Using slippery products (e.g., petroleum jelly) to help reduce the amount of friction the shoe or boot can cause to the foot or toes.
- Using shoe and boot dryers. This item may be particularly helpful for people who live in damp climates or who use the same footwear each day and perspire a lot on the job.
- Finding and using shoes that provide sufficient length, width, and volume to avoid pressure and rubbing over the foot’s bony prominences and toes. Most shoes are not shaped like a healthy foot, which can make finding appropriate shoes difficult. However, we at Natural Footgear offer men's and women's shoes that satisfy this requirement.
- Using a shoe stretcher to help to reduce pressure on specific foot points.
- Using a tongue pad within the shoe to help prevent excessive motion of the foot. Excessive foot motion inside the shoe is one of the most common causes of friction blisters.
Two main treatment options exist for friction blisters. The first option is to lance or puncture the blister with a metallic object that has been boiled or subjected to flame sterilization. This treatment technique increases the risk of developing a bacterial infection, so it’s important to cover the opening of the blister after treatment. Antibiotic ointments and creams may further assist in preventing infection of the punctured skin blister. Cleaning the involved area with soap and water before applying bandages is also recommended.
The second treatment option is to leave the friction blister intact and wait for it to dissipate. This option may be less acceptable for a person who develops a blister in the middle of physical activity (e.g., someone who still needs to finish the last few miles of a long hike or run). The blister creates more friction and space restriction as it enlarges, compounding a bad situation. A person is at greater risk for friction blisters if he or she has diabetes or another health condition that causes reduced sensation in the feet. In these cases, regular screening exams with a foot care professional may be helpful for preventing friction blisters.