When you’re trying to get your 10,000 steps a day, the last thing you need is blisters on your feet. Foot blisters are usually just annoying. But they can be incredibly painful and might point to a more serious condition for some people.
Hold up, though. Don’t give up your dreams of running a 5K just yet. Here’s the rub on how to safely heal and prevent blisters on your feet – so you can get back to making your FitBit happy.
Blisters form due to skin damage, irritation, or infection.
You know how your last online order came snugly packaged in bubble wrap? Blisters do the same, but for skin damage (plus, they’re a little more eco-friendly).
Often, a blister fills with a clear liquid that protects the skin underneath.
If the trauma goes deeper, the blister could fill with blood. This forms a (very creatively titled) blood blister. If the blister looks cloudy, greenish, or yellow, it could also contain pus.
That’s not necessarily a red (or yellow?) flag. But if the symptoms of infection gets worse or spread beyond the blister, see a doctor.
Usually, blisters are harmless, if annoying. Knowing what causes a blister can help you know when they warrant a closer look from a medical pro and when to shrug them off and leave them be.
1. Tight fitting shoes
The biggest culprit for foot blisters is shoes that don’t fit. Tight fitting shoes cause friction. As your foot continues to rub against the shoe, it damages the skin. This damage can lead to blisters.
That doesn’t mean that a shoe that’s half a size too small will automatically take you to blister town. Standing and walking often don’t cause enough friction to damage the skin.
But running or hiking in tight shoes is a recipe for pain. Make sure your shoes fit properly before you head out on a run.
2. Excess moisture and sweat
No one likes running around in wet shoes. Not only does it just feel gross, but it makes blisters more likely.
No one deliberately hits up a marathon after jumping in puddles. But it’s important to keep moisture and sweat in check when you go for a run.
One study studied the impact of 5 different materials for running socks and their impact on blisters. The study authors found that the material didn’t make any significant difference to friction, but the amount of moisture on the runner’s feet played a larger role.
If you get a bad enough sunburn, the skin blisters to protect the skin and give it a chance to heal.
The feet aren’t the most likely place you might get sunburnt (although it can happen — looking at you, flimsy sandals). But people often forget to bring the SPF to the tootsies. And that can lead to some very painful blisters.
If you’re stuck outside and it’s under 28º F (-2°C), you could develop frostbite. Your fingers and toes face the highest risk of frostbite damage, so try to keep them warm in brutally cold temperatures.
As exposed tissue starts to freeze, blood vessels can burst. This causes swelling and blisters.
Frostbite’s pretty obvious — you’ll likely know if it’s the cause your blisters. If you have frostbite blisters, seek emergency treatment at your nearest hospital.
This gives healthcare professionals the best chance of treating and possibly salvaging the damaged tissue.
Even if you don’t notice blisters but have been stuck outside in under 28º F (-2°C) weather, it’s best to see a doctor ASAP so they can rule out or treat frostbite damage.
These blisters might form alongside other symptoms, including:
- a red rash with borders that aren’t very defined
- dry skin
If you spot a blister and also clock these symptoms, it’s likely to be an allergic reaction.
If blisters start popping up all over and itching like crazy, it might be chickenpox. And if you’re at an age where this doesn’t bag you the day off of kindergarten, it could be more severe for you.
It’s rare that chickenpox will stay in your foot area. But the blisters can start anywhere and don’t always spread across the entire body.
If you’re an adult and suspect that you have chickenpox, see a doctor. Though the disease is less serious in children (and most get vaccinations against it anyway), the illness can be more severe in adults. (Not so funny now, is it, “Friends“?)
The chickenpox vaccine is available to anyone who hasn’t already had chickenpox. So, if you want to avoid the illness entirely, ask your doctor about getting a jab.
7. Bacterial infection
A bacterial infection occurs when disease-causing bacteria pass into the body and trigger an inflammatory response. Sometimes, that response produces blisters.
Examples include impetigo and MRSA. Neither is particularly pleasant and both can produce blisters on the skin. Impetigo, however, usually develops on the face rather than the feet.
If you have other symptoms of sickness other than just the blisters (or if the blisters look like they’re filled with pus), head to a doctor. A course of antibiotics will usually solve the problem.
You really should try and seek consultation, if you can. Waiting out a bacterial infection at home can prolong recovery and make the infection worse. And who wants that?
8. Hand, foot, and mouth disease
Scientists weren’t terribly clever when they came up with the name hand, foot, and mouth disease.
It develops when the Coxsackievirus enters the body and does what it says it does. Hand, foot, and mouth disease causes painful blistering across your hands, feet, and… yep, the mouth, too. (Seriously. It’s like calling gingivitis “sad chompy tooth time.”)
It typically occurs in young children and the blisters usually develop alongside a fever. If your child has a blistery rash on their feet and hands, plus sores in their mouth, this could be a potential cause. (Adults can also get it, though.)
Thankfully, this disease usually goes away without treatment. You only need to see a doctor if the rash doesn’t improve after 10 days, or if it starts getting worse.
Large blisters or a cluster of blisters might form around the hands, legs, and feet on peeps with diabetes (although it’s rare).
It’s called bullosis diabeticorum. Though the blisters may be large and full of fluid, they aren’t usually painful.
Although on the large side, these blisters aren’t dangerous in themselves. But they could suggest that you need to take extra measures to control your diabetes. They also have a risk of popping and introducing infectious agents to your body.
Be sure to keep the area clean and covered, especially if the skin breaks.
So if you have a herpes diagnosis and start getting foot blisters that won’t go away, talk to your doctor about herpetic whitlow.
11. Dyshidrotic eczema
There’s no known cause of dyshidrotic eczema. But people with regular eczema are more likely to get this blistery version than those without eczema.
Stress or exposure to metals can cause flares. If blisters form, be sure to take the following measures:
- keep the skin clean
- avoid friction
- use a heavy duty hydrating lotion to moisturize the skin
Thankfully, you can treat most blisters at home — often just by leaving it be.
The good news: you don’t need a lot of materials to treat blisters. The bad news: you might need a little extra patience. And there’s definitely times where you could make the symptoms worse.
Leave it alone
In general, the best thing to do with a blister is nothing. That’s it. The steps for doing nothing are as follows:
- Leave it alone. 😑
- Don’t touch it. 😐
- Really. Don’t do it. 🙄
- Don’t poke at it because it feels weird. 😡
- Just let it heal. 👍
Cover the blister with a padded bandage. This keeps the delicate skin away from additional friction that could pop the blister and potentially lead to infection.
When the blister drains, be sure to keep the skin clean by washing the area with a gentle soap and warm water. If the blister bursts, use an antibiotic cream to keep the area germ-free.
How to safely drain a blister
For the most part, it’s best to avoid draining a blister altogether.
The fact that a blister has formed is proof that the area is healing. Popping it won’t speed up the process and could make infection more likely. It will also drag out the healing process.
Sometimes you need to pop it. Again, for the most part, ⛔️ don’t ⛔️ do ⛔️ this ⛔️. But it can be safe.
If the fluid in the blister is clear, and it gets in the way of walking or is particularly painful, here’s how to drain a blister at home safely:
- Sterilize a needle with rubbing alcohol. (Be sure to sterilize before sticking anything into your skin.)
- Poke the needle into the sides of the blister. Make a few small holes on both sides. Don’t pierce the center.
- Gently squeeze the blister until all the liquid has drained.
- Immediately apply an antibiotic cream.
- Cover the drained blister with a padded bandage.
Usually blisters resolve without treatment. But if the blister doesn’t heal after more than a week, you may want to see a doctor.
If at any point you get a high fever or start vomiting, you need to hit up the doctor’s office right away. Those are both possible symptoms of infection.
A doctor may be able to safely drain a blood blister to reduce any pain it’s causing during movement.
Keep an eye on the skin around the blister. If it starts to look extra inflamed, let a doctor check it out to put a cork in any complications.
Finally, if you suspect the blisters could be a symptom of an underlying cause like diabetes, it’s best to ask a doctor so you can get treatment for more severe illnesses.
These simple, preventive measures can help you walk, run, and frolic all you want without blisters getting in the way.
Wear shoes that fit
If the boot fits…
This seems simple, but how many times have you slipped on your finest stilettos on the grounds that they’re *a little* tight, but, gosh dang it, is your drip on point?
Bad news — one night of tight shoes can lead to aggravating blisters.
If you’re a runner or hiker, it’s even more important that your shoes fit properly so that recurring friction doesn’t lead to loads of foot pain.
Keep your feet dry
Sweaty feet (the little-known sequel to “Happy Feet”) are a leading cause of blisters. Thankfully, it’s pretty easy to keep it dry.
Moisture wicking socks and a drying foot powder can help even heavy sweaters avoid irritating the skin and causing pain.
Soaps and detergents can irritate the skin, sometimes leading to blisters. Make sure you avoid anything that causes skin irritation. Use gentle soap on your feet and avoid scented detergents.
If you have allergies, keep away from anything that causes a reaction if you’d like to stay blister-free.
Hypoallergenic soaps are available for .
Treating or managing underlying conditions
If you’re prone to eczema, keep hands and feet extra moisturized to try to stave off dyshidrotic eczema.
Or, if you have diabetes, make sure you’re managing the disease according to your doctors guidelines.
For any underlying conditions, be sure to keep treatment to avoid side effects, blisters included.
Blisters can develop on your feet. Usually, this is down to ill-fitting footwear or sweaty stompers. Sunburn might also be behind your blisters.
However, they might be a symptom of diabetes, eczema, bacterial infection, herpes, or other underlying conditions. If your blisters develop alongside other symptoms, seek medical treatment.
It’s sometimes safe to drain blisters at home — but not really advisable. If your blister is full of blood or pus (eww), a medical pro should drain this in a sterile environment.
You can reduce the risk of blisters by using foot powder when you run, buying shoes or sneakers that fit, and avoiding chemicals that irritate the skin.