Spring is officially here, and as the weather clears up, more of us are starting to get out of the house and enjoy the outdoors again. With it comes irritating things like blisters. How do they form, how can we prevent them, and what should we do once we get them?
When is it Doctor Time?
That’s usually the first question you want to ask yourself, and as you’ve likely guessed, the answer is rarely. While blisters are irritating and quite often very painful, it almost always heals within a week without treatment. The vast majority of blisters occur on the feet, caused largely by some combination of ill-fitting footwear, unfamiliar activity, and moisture. While extremely uncomfortable and painful, these are rarely concerning enough to visit a doctor.
You may want to see a doctor in some cases:
- If the blister is a result of a severe burn or chemical exposure
- If the blister is a result of a medical condition
- If the blister becomes infected
- If you are diabetic
Blisters form largely in response to consistent and forceful friction. Less forceful friction generally results in corns and calluses. While blisters are rarely a serious medical problem, they are undoubtedly painful and annoying. You could end up in the middle of a hike with painful blisters on your feet, hours away from your vehicle – a severe pain that may have been preventable. The key is to minimize the factors that lead to blisters.
- Ill-fitting footwear is the biggest culprit. Don’t go on long walks with new and unfamiliar footwear. It takes time to break-in.
- If a pair of shoes usually gives you a blister, but you’re unwilling to give it up, try applying a blister stick to problem areas on your foot before you wear the shoes. The blister stick helps create a barrier to reduce the friction that would cause blisters.
- Keep your feet dry. Moisture makes blisters form easier. Have water-resistant footwear, wear socks to wick away moisture, and dry your feet periodically.
- Blisters can form and worsen quickly if your skin is exposed to constant friction. If you are on a hike and your feet are hurting, turn back. If it’s a reasonable option, take a break or even walk barefoot for some time.
- Manual labor like gardening, shoveling, or even golfing can cause enough friction to cause blisters on the hands. Using gloves appropriately can help protect your hands.
- Preparation can go a long way. Bring some vaseline (petrolatum), dry socks, comfortable footwear, and bandages to your next hike or camping trip.
The Healing Process
Blisters will form from time to time if you are an active person despite your best efforts to prevent them; they are one of the most common injuries. Most blisters will heal within three days, and even the larger ones will generally heal within a week unless they are aggravated further or become infected. For most blisters, though, simply waiting it out will be the course of treatment.
- Sadly, there aren’t any quick fixes. You need to let it rest and avoid aggravating the injury further. The skin takes time to grow.
- We recommend that you DO NOT pop blisters. While it can relieve pressure, puncturing the blister increases the chance of infection, and it won’t help you recover any faster. If you choose to puncture the blister, wash your hands and the blister with soap and water, dip a needle with rubbing alcohol, pierce the side of the blister, and keep the skin as intact as possible.
- Cover your blister with a blister bandage to reduce friction, and remove your footwear as much as possible as your blister heals.
- Keep the area dry and clean. A sterile dressing can help as well.
- Blood blisters are treated similarly. They tend to form more often via accidental pinching or impact that damages the vessels without breaking the skin.