Why Blisters Hurt & Why You Shouldn't Pop a Foot Blister

Foot blisters are small pockets of fluid (serum, plasma, blood, pus, or lymph), and can vary in size and severity. Learn about foot blister symptoms and causes.

Foot Blister Symptoms

Americans average fewer than 5,000 steps per day. While this is below the recommended amount, it's still an awful lot of work for your feet. Because of their consistent use, injuries to the feet are not uncommon. One of the most annoying is the dreaded foot blister. How concerned should you be about a foot blister? Before we can answer that, let's see how many associated foot blister symptoms you're experiencing.

Common accompanying symptoms of foot blisters

It's likely to also experience:

Classified as small pockets of fluid (possible fluids include serum, plasma, blood, pus, or lymph,) blisters can vary in size and severity. Getting a foot blister is easy. Luckily, the treatment for one is also simple. Before you whip out ointment and a band aid, determine the actual cause of your blister. This will ensure that you receive proper treatment and that preventative measures are taken to avoid a second occurrence.

Foot Blister Causes

There are obvious foot blister causes, like excess friction, and some surprising reasons, like chemical exposure.

Trauma

Trauma to the foot can result in blisters due to the following.

  • Friction: Pressure and friction can lead to blisters. Whether you stand or walk for hours on end, a change in your normal activity level can irritate the skin and lead to a bubble.
  • Unsafe conditions: Exposing your foot to extreme conditions, both hot and cold, can lead to blisters. Frostbite is one example. After skin has thawed from excessively cold temperatures, blisters typically form. Sunburn and overly hot water can also cause blisters.

Reactions

Blisters can occur due to reactions to certain exposures.

  • Allergic: Whether it's from direct contact or due to a skin condition like dyshidrotic eczema, blisters can form on the feet due to an allergic reaction. These can last for several weeks and the allergen must be removed.
  • Chemical: Chemical burns range in severity but most require some degree of medical intervention. Blisters are one side effect of a chemical reaction, along with peeling and red skin.

Infections

Infections can result in blisters, such as the following.

  • Fungal: The foot is an ideal breeding ground for fungi. Athlete's foot and ringworm are just two examples of fungal infections that can cause foot blisters.
  • Bacterial: A cut on the foot that becomes infected with bacteria can develop a blister. Look for signs of a serious infection, like pus or red lines.

Environmental foot blister causes

Lifestyle habits or certain exposures can result in blisters.

  • Moisture changes: Walking around in wet socks or going on vacation in a drier climate than you're used to are two ways your skin's moisture levels can be agitated, leading to blisters.
  • Clothing: Wearing itchy socks or shoes that are too tight can cause friction that leads to foot blisters.

Frostbite

Frostbite of the feet and toes can also cause blisters to form. Frostbite occurs when the feet are exposed to very cold temperatures, and it doesn't necessarily take prolonged exposure to get frostbite. In places where the temperature is 0 degrees Fahrenheit with a 15-mph wind, frostbite can occur in 30 minutes or less.

Burns

On the other end of the temperature spectrum, burns to the feet can cause blisters as well. If you step on something hot and your feet suffer a second-degree burn, you will likely see a blister form immediately. Blisters can develop from a first-degree burn as well, but these blisters often take a few days to appear.

Poor-Fitting Shoes

Poor-fitting shoes are a major cause of blisters of the feet, and it's not just high heels that are to blame. In fact, any style of shoe that pinches the feet or that rubs in a sensitive area can cause blisters.

Dyshidrotic Eczema

A rarer cause of blisters on the soles of the feet is dyshidrotic eczema, which is a skin condition that has connections to both stress and allergies. This condition is most common during the spring allergy season, and the blisters tend to form around the edges of toes and feet. It can take a few weeks for dyshidrotic eczema blisters to dry up and heal.

This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Friction blister on the foot

Friction blisters are very common among both men and women of all ages. They most commonly affect the feet due to lifting heavy loads, repetitive overuse, or ill-fitting shoes. The layers of skin become separated from mechanical force, and the body fills the gap with fluid.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: foot pain, foot blister, blister likely from friction, constant skin changes, foot skin changes

Symptoms that always occur with friction blister on the foot: foot blister, blister likely from friction

Urgency: Self-treatment

Cellulitis

Cellulitis is a bacterial infection of the deep layers of the skin. It can appear anywhere on the body but is most common on the feet, lower legs, and face.

The condition can develop if Staphylococcus bacteria enter broken skin through a cut, scrape, or existing skin infection such as impetigo or eczema.

Most susceptible are those with a weakened immune system, as from corticosteroids or chemotherapy, or with impaired circulation from diabetes or any vascular disease.

Symptoms arise somewhat gradually and include sore, reddened skin.

If not treated, the infection can become severe, form pus, and destroy the tissue around it. In rare cases, the infection can cause blood poisoning or meningitis.

Symptom of severe pain, fever, cold sweats, and fast heartbeat should be seen immediately by a medical provider.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination.

Treatment consists of antibiotics, keeping the wound clean, and sometimes surgery to remove any dead tissue. Cellulitis often recurs, so it is important to treat any underlying conditions and improve the immune system with rest and good nutrition.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: fever, chills, facial redness, swollen face, face pain

Symptoms that always occur with cellulitis: facial redness, area of skin redness

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Allergic reaction to poison ivy/oak/sumac

Plants of the Toxicodendron genus are found throughout the continental United States, and exposure to these plants is a leading cause of contact dermititis, a medical term used to describe irritation and itching of the skin.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: rash, itchy rash, red rash, skin changes on arm, stinging or burning rash

Symptoms that always occur with allergic reaction to poison ivy/oak/sumac: itchy rash, rash

Symptoms that never occur with allergic reaction to poison ivy/oak/sumac: fever

Urgency: Self-treatment

Bullous impetigo

Bullous Impetigo is a skin infection that causes large blisters that is caused by streptococcus (strep) or staphylococcus (staph) bacteria. Methicillin-resistant staph aureus (MRSA) is becoming a common cause.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: moderate fever, constant skin changes, facial skin changes, severe fever, crusty rash

Symptoms that always occur with bullous impetigo: facial skin changes, constant skin changes

Urgency: Primary care doctor

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Foot Blister Treatments and Relief

As mentioned, a trip to the doctor is rare when it comes to foot blister cases.

How to address a blister at home

You may want to treat foot blister symptoms as quickly as possible, but before you reach for a needle or pick at it with your finger, keep the following in mind.

  • Limit your infection risk: Only pop a blister if it is likely to be further irritated. The skin beneath should be kept clean to prevent infection.
  • Sterilize a needle: If you feel popping the blister is necessary, use a sterilized needle to make a small hole and allow the fluid to drain.
  • If the fluid is anything but clear, an infection is likely
  • Apply an antibiotic cream to the area
  • Monitor the area: You should watch for signs of infection until it has cleared. If necessary, seek medical attention for an infection that becomes overly painful or worsens.

Bandages and Gauze

To protect a blister and allow it to heal, cover it up with a bandage or wrap it in gauze. It can be difficult to keep bandages on the feet due to sweat and wearing shoes. So wrapping gauze around a foot blister is often a more effective approach. Hydrocolloid dressings are an over-the-counter solution to promote blister healing and manage blister pain.

Fresh Air

When you are home and not on your feet, remove the bandage or gauze to allow fresh air to reach your blister. This will reduce the amount of moisture on your feet and promote faster healing.

Blister Taping

Rather than waiting for blisters to form before bandaging your feet, you can preemptively tape then to prevent blisters instead. Long-distance runners and other endurance athletes commonly tape their feet to protect the skin's surface from rubbing. Research has also shown that taping the feet can provide thermal insulation and spread the shear load when using stretchy tape.

Aloe Vera

Aloe vera is commonly used for sunburns, but its soothing and anti-inflammatory properties make it excellent for foot blisters too. Much of the pain of a blister comes from the swelling, and aloe vera is known to reduce inflammation. You can either buy commercially packaged aloe or cut a leaf off an aloe plant in your home.

When to see a doctor for foot blister symptoms

If you notice the following foot blister symptoms, schedule an appointment to be safe.

  • Continual drainage of pus
  • Severe pain when applying pressure
  • A blister that keeps coming back
  • Any other sign of infection: Such as redness or excessive warmth.

Further at-home treatments for foot blister symptoms

If you're avoiding the needle (which is recommended), here are a few ways you can regulate your discomfort and speed up the healing of your foot blister symptoms.

  • Avoid pressure: When making major changes to your activity levels, try to do so gradually. Avoiding excess pressure on your feet will help prevent blisters in the first place and speed up the healing of any existing ones.
  • Change clothing: Opt for cotton socks that let your feet breathe and avoid shoes that don't fit just right.
  • Witch hazel: Witch hazel's astringent tannins will help dry out a foot blister without taking the risk of popping it. Apply it gently using a cotton ball.

The next time you spot a bubble on your foot, you can assume a blister is brewing. By taking the proper steps, you can speed up its healing and prevent infection.

FAQs About Foot Blisters

Should you pop a blister on your foot?

Friction blisters on the foot occur when repeated trauma and shear forces separate the epidermis and dermis of the foot. These blisters tend to resolve normally without intervention and should not be popped. If possible, a bandage that surrounds the blister and takes pressure off of it is the best way to treat the blister while avoiding further injury or infection.

Is there a safe way to drain a blister?

Generally, the principles of any type of wound treatment apply to a blister. Use sterile tools cleaned with a disinfectant or heat-treated to lance and drain a blister and then remove excess skin. The blister can then be treated with a dry bandage. You should avoid using dirty tools and treating a blister with wet salves.

How long does it take for a blister to heal?

A blister, once properly treated, should heal anywhere from seven to ten days. If the blister begins to become inflamed or emit pus, it may be infected and you should seek medical care and possibly antibiotics. It is, however, uncommon to contract an infection as long as the wound is kept dry and clean.

What is the fluid in a blister?

Blisters can contain many different types of fluids or mixtures of fluids. The most common types of fluids include plasma (or blood without the red blood cells), blood, lymph (the fluid from the lymphatic system generally full of white blood cells), and pus if the blister is infected in some way.

Why do my blisters hurt?

Blisters hurt because the epidermis, the top layer of the skin, generally dulls sensation but has been pulled loose from the underlying layers. These layers, called the dermis, hold more nerves and can therefore register more sensations of pressure and pain. Even a light touch feels painful without the protection of the epidermis over the more sensitive dermis.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Foot Blister

  • Do any of your body parts (e.g., toes, hands, ears) feel cold?
  • What fluid is in your blister?
  • Are you having any difficulty walking?
  • Do you drink alcohol?

Self-diagnose with our free if you answer yes on any of these questions.

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References

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