We treat a lot of runners, athletes, and active people here in Austin, and that means we see a lot of foot blisters. They always seem to occur at the most inopportune times, and depending on where they occur—say the bottom of a toe, or the ball of the foot—they can make it hard to even walk normally without discomfort, and if they pop or burst without warning they could lead to infection. Signs of infection include redness, burning, and yellowish or greenish pus.
How Blisters Form
Blisters are a natural response to damage to the skin, usually from friction (although they can also be caused by burns, illnesses, drug reactions, or other factors). While prolonged, low-level rubbing usually leads to a corn or callus, blisters usually occur from a briefer period of more intense friction on a small area.
Here’s a typical scenario: you slip on a pair of shoes that isn’t a great fit—maybe it’s a little too tight in the front, or doesn’t provide enough support—and spend a day on your feet out at the theme park, or go out for a long run, or play a tennis match or game of pickup basketball. By the evening you can tell there’s a tender spot at the base of a toe.
Caring for a Foot Blister
First things first: should you drain your blister? In most cases the answer is no, since it greatly increases the infection risk. That goes double if you have an autoimmune or circulatory condition, such as diabetes. Protecting and cushioning the unbroken blister with a soft dressing and allowing it to heal on its own is always the best outcome, if possible.
If the blister does burst, avoid the temptation to peel off the top layer of skin—it can still provide a natural barrier against infection. Instead, drain any excess fluid, wash the area with soap and water, apply an antibiotic ointment, then bandage the area. Replace with a clean bandage at least once per day.
If your blister is especially large or painful and impairing your ability to walk, the best choice is to drop by our office and let us drain and bandage it in a safe, sterile environment. This will give you the relief you need with the best odds of avoiding an infection.
You should only consider draining a blister yourself if you do not have any potentially complicating conditions, you have access to clean, sterile tools, and you are not able to see a professional. Using a needle sterilized with rubbing alcohol, make several small holes at the outside edge of the blister and carefully drain the fluid. Then, as you would with a burst blister, apply antiobiotic ointment and bandage, replacing daily.
The best treatment for blisters, of course, is preventing them in the first place. Although no strategy is guaranteed to be 100% successful, if you find that foot blisters are becoming a chronic problem, these tips might help you eliminate or reduce future episodes. Consider:
- Wear shoes that fit well, provide proper support, are in good repair, and are appropriate for your activity. If you need shoe shopping help, check out a specialty store or ask us at your next appointment.
- Try moisture-wicking socks, especially for athletic activities (or those hot Austin summer days).
- f you have any particular “hot spots” where blisters often form, try attaching a blister-prevention pad or patch as directed to your foot or the inside of your shoe where trouble is likely to emerge.
- Often times, certain foot structures may lead to increased blister risk. Over-the-counter cushioned insoles, prefabricated orthotics, or custom orthotics can accommodate or correct these problems to mitigate the risk. You’ll need to stop in for an examination so we can fit you with the pair appropriate for your situation.
Blisters may be common and may seem like fairly minor annoyances, but if you’re suffering from a blister that’s painful, notice any signs of infection, or have a condition (like diabetes) that predisposes you to greater infection risk, play it safe and see our team at North Austin Foot & Ankle Institute. We’ll provide the care you need. Schedule an appointment by calling 512-593-2949 today.