Every year I go hiking and end up with at least three blisters on my feet—so I’ve gotten pretty good at caring for them.
Hiking in Minnesota
For the past three years, my hubby and I have been lucky enough to go hiking in the Lake Superior region of Minnesota. Every year I ended up with at least three blisters on my feet—so I’ve gotten pretty good at caring for them. Here’s what I’ve learned.
What Are Blisters?
Blisters are bubbles of fluid between the top layer of skin and the lower layers. They’re the body’s way of protecting itself from further injury because they form due to things like friction, burns, freezing, or illness.
Usually, they’re filled with clear fluid, but sometimes they fill with blood. If they have puss in them, you’re dealing with an infection, and you should seek medical attention for it. The last thing you want is the infection to move into your bloodstream. Because they have a tendency to get infected, blisters can be very tricky to treat.
If your blisters were formed by illness, frostbite, or burns, you may want to seek the help of a doctor to treat those issues. This article concentrates on friction blisters.
Do They All Need Treatment?
Not all blisters need extra attention. The less severe ones will heal without intervention, and you’ll be left with a patch of peeling skin once they’re healed. Just put a small adhesive bandage over those to protect them from further rubbing if you can’t switch shoes. They’ll usually heal up within the week.
The only time blisters should be popped or receive any other sort of treatment is if they cause pain due to pressure or if they break on their own.
Treatment That Has Worked for Me
You’ll need the following materials to treat more painful blisters:
- Antibacterial cream
- Lighter, hydrogen peroxide, or rubbing alcohol
- Q-tips or cotton balls
The most important thing to remember when treating your blisters is to avoid infection. If the blister has already burst on its own, clean it as soon as possible and apply antibacterial cream, like Neosporin, before putting a Band-Aid or two over it during the day.
If the blister is causing enough pressure to be painful, these are the steps that have worked for me.
1. Sterilize a needle or pin
Carefully heat the tip of the needle or pin with your lighter for about 10 seconds. I use this method while camping because a lighter travels much more easily than bottles of liquid.
If you’re at home, rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide is a better option. Drop the pin in a bottle or cup of rubbing alcohol and shake for about 30 seconds before carefully removing it with clean hands. If you use hydrogen peroxide, just let the pin sit until it stops bubbling, or for a minimum of 30 seconds.
2. Puncture the blister
Be careful with this step. If you don’t have steady hands or don’t think you can do it yourself, ask someone else to. I’ve found that slipping the pin into the blister from the side and keeping it parallel to the surface of the skin prevents the tip of the needle from contacting the lower layer of skin.
The fluid that comes out should be clear, and you can catch that with a clean tissue or piece of toilet paper. Once it stops coming out on its own, gently press down on the blister with a fingertip until you get as much fluid out as possible.
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If what comes out is white or yellowish, get to a doctor because you’re dealing with some sort of infection. If you bleed, that means you’ve punctured the healthy tissue making up the floor of the blister, and you should watch for signs of infection.
3. Apply antibacterial cream
While you can apply the cream with your fingers, using something like a Q-tip is more sterile and less messy.
4. Protect it
Once all is said and done, put a Band-Aid or other type of protective bandage on.
Whether the blister already broke before you could get to it or you popped it yourself, the aftercare is the same. Keep the Band-Aids on during the day and either go barefoot or choose shoes that don’t rub the injury when you walk. If it’s in a spot you can’t avoid rubbing, like the pads of the toes or sides of the feet where sandal straps hit, wear socks when you wear shoes. Take the Band-Aids off at night, so the blisters can dry out and continue healing.
Also, watch for increased redness, pain, and swelling. These are all signs of infection, and you’ll need to get medical care for those.
Part of what can make blisters on the feet so painful is that the area around them can get inflamed and painful, especially when it’s hot out. Once you’ve treated the blisters, and if you’ve put waterproof Band-Aids on, soaking your feet in cold water is extremely good at bringing swelling down. It’ll also help you cool off.
If that’s not an option, over-the-counter ibuprofen is also extremely helpful in killing the pain while bringing swelling down. As usual, drink lots of water, especially on hot, humid days.
The best way to deal with blisters is to avoid getting them to begin with. That’s all about choosing the right footwear. That includes wearing socks whenever you have hiking boots or sneakers. The right pair of socks will draw sweat away from your skin while protecting it from the inside of your shoes.
If you know you’ll be hiking rough terrain, hiking boots are the way to go, but before using your new pair, break them in. As you walk around in them before the trip, take note of where they rub. If wearing socks isn’t enough to stop the irritation, putting a Band-Aid over the spot of your foot or ankle will protect your skin from becoming irritated enough to blister.
If you have an older pair of hiking boots, replacing the original insole with a gel insert will do wonders. My boots are pretty old, and the original insole had worn out, which contributed to my problems last year. This year, I replaced it with a gel insole, and the blisters were far less severe than usual.
Finally, if you know you’ll be out for a long time, carry Band-Aids or blister cushions with you. As soon as you feel rubbing, take a break to put one on the spot. That will keep the blister from getting worse or forming in the first place.
Taking proper measures against getting them in the first place and taking the right care of them will help you enjoy yourself without the irritation of blisters.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Emilie S Peck (author) from Minneapolis, MN on January 16, 2014:
Ouch! Since the skin is still there, I'd gently clean it, put some antibacterial cream on it and put a bandage on to protect it. Rubbing alcohol would work, too, but that stuff stings like crazy. The cream is a lot gentler but still does the job.
If you don't have either of those handy, so long as you keep the wound clean and protected during the day, and let it breath when you're sleeping, you should be fine. Just watch for infection and be gentle with the area.
Leave the skin on, since it adds a little extra protection. It'll flake off when the new layer of skin has finished growing.
Hope it heals up soon!
idk i on January 15, 2014:
I have a huge blister and it popped by its self but it looks nasy all the skin is still there but idk what to do now
Emilie S Peck (author) from Minneapolis, MN on August 21, 2013:
There's actually some debate about when or when not to puncture them, since infection is a real danger, but so long as you keep everything sterile, it shouldn't be a problem. Puncturing them is usually better than just letting them go on their own. Far less painful and they tend to heal much faster.
Claudia Porter on August 21, 2013:
Blisters are the worst. I never realized we should puncture them, but it makes sense since when I don't, they tend to burst in the shoe and then they really hurt. Useful hub!