There’s nothing worse than going for a walk or getting halfway through your gym routine and – ouch – your sparkling new trainers have given you a blister. But don’t reach for a pin just yet! Here’s how you should properly treat a blister to give your skin the best chance at healing.
What is a blister?
Blisters are fluid-filled bubbles that develop on the upper layers of your skin. When you’re working out, they’re most commonly caused by friction from clothing or new shoes rubbing against your skin.
A warm, moist environment is ideal for blister formation – like the inside of your shoes. Interestingly, it’s sudden, brief, intense friction that’s most likely to cause foot blisters, rather than prolonged or repetitive friction. On your feet, you’re likely to find them on your heels and around your toes.
Treating a sealed blister
So you’ve taken your shoes off and, yep, there it is, a bulging plasma-filled blister on your heel. Thankfully the next step is pretty easy: clean and protect.
Keeping the skin intact over a blister helps the raw skin underneath it to heal. Your skin also provides a natural barrier against debris and infection, and will naturally harden and fall off when the skin underneath is ready.
Gently clean the blister, dry your foot and apply a dressing, being careful not to stick it directly to the blister. Gauze pads with a non-adhesive centre work well for larger blisters, or you can use bandaids for smaller ones.
If you only have small bandaids on hand, you can make a “tent” by sticking two of the long edges together, with the middle padded section rising over the blister. It allows the blister to breathe while still protecting the site from further irritation or infection.
When you can, pop your shoes off, take off the dressing and let the blister breathe uncovered. It keeps the blister dry and can speed up the healing process.
Should you pop it?
While it’s recommended that you shouldn’t pop blisters, some are just too big and too painful to deal with when they’re full. Using an antibacterial wipe or cleaner, clean the area of the blister and a small needle. With the sanitised needle, gently puncture the edge of the blister (not the middle). Press the fluid towards the hole to drain it.
Make sure you leave as much skin as you can intact. Even if the blister is popped, the skin still provides a natural and effective barrier against infection.
Once the blister is drained, cover it with a dressing or leave it to air.
Treating a burst blister
So you ignored the hot pain in your foot and went all out, and now you have a problem: your blister has burst and it hurts.
First step: don’t remove the skin. Although it’s torn and burst, it can still provide a lot of protection to the sore, raw skin underneath. Take care to drain the remaining fluid and clean the blister before applying a dressing, taking care no to stick anything to the blister skin or the raw skin underneath. Change the dressing daily.
And then there are the situations where you feel completely screwed: you’ve completely deroofed your blister — in fact, there is no more blister, just raw skin. In this case you should apply a hydrocolloid dressing, like Compeed. The raw skin hurts when exposed to the air and will weep as it heels, so the moist dressing provides the best environment for healing in this case.
When to see a doctor
Despite all of your best intentions, things can still go wrong, and blisters, like any other wound or injury, can become infected. You should see your doctor if your blister swells, becomes red, hot or more painful, if there are red streaks extending away from the blister, if there is pus in the fluid or if you develop a fever — these are all signs of infection and should be treated immediately.
Prevention is the best medicine
As with all things, prevention is the best medicine when it comes to avoiding blisters. If you know that you’re prone to blisters on certain areas, or if you’ve just got a brand new pair of shoes you need to “break in”, apply an anti-friction ointment like Blister Balm to your heels and toes prior to working out or heading on a trek.
Extra precautions should also be taken on hot days: when your feet sweat, there’s an increased chance of a blister developing. Try to keep your feet as dry as you can by wearing breathable socks, or specialty moisture-wicking socks designed specifically for exercising.
After all, you should take the best care of your feet as you can: more often than not, they’re the one thing keeping you moving!