If you have ever had a blister, whatever the cause, you know just how painful they can be. A blister is a bubble under the skin that is filled with serum; a clear fluid excreted by damaged blood vessels. 'Blood' blisters are filled with blood. Blisters are usually itchy and painful. Sometimes you may not even feel them. Here you will find practical information regarding the many causes of blisters, and how to get rid of blisters.
1. The Causes of Blisters:
Blisters are most commonly found on your hand and feet, but can also form on other parts of the body from a wide variety of causes. Some of these blister causes are:
# Friction. When a single area of skin is repeatedly rubbed over extended period of time, a tear forms under the outer layer of skin (epidermis), causing fluid to leak through and become trapped between layers of skin. This is the cause of most hand blisters and foot blisters because they often rub against shoes, sports equipment such as rackets, and tools such as rakes or shovels. Also, the thick skin in these areas, along with a moist and warm environment creates the ideal conditions for blister formation.
# Irritation. Burns of any kind, including sunburn, can cause blisters to form. Irritating chemicals coming in contact with the skin may also create blisters. Extremely cold conditions can result in frostbite, which can cause blisters when the skin is re-warmed. Also, eczema, a skin condition characterized by a persistent rash that may be red, dry, and itchy, can result in blister formation.
* Allergic Reactions. If you come into contact with a poison such as poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac, blisters may form due to what is called allergic contact dermatitis.
* Infections. There are many infections that can cause blisters to appear on your skin;
o Varicella Zoster Virus; the cause of chickenpox in children, or shingles in adults.
o Coxsackievirus (Hand-Foot-and-Mouth Disease) infections commonly found in children can produce blisters.
o Bullous Impetigo infections caused by either the staphylococci (staph) or streptococcus (strep) bacteria. This condition is most commonly found in children and appears in small clusters. If impetigo is not treated, it will spread and persist.
o Herpes Simplex Virus (both 1 and 2) can cause blisters to appear on the mouth or genital areas.
* Diseases of the Skin. Many skin diseases can cause blister formation. Some of these include dermatitis herpetiformis (a sensitivity in the intestine to gluten in the diet), epidermolysis bullosa (a rare hereditary disease that makes the skin highly susceptible to blisters as a result of minor friction or irritation), and porphyria cutanea tarda (a condition that causes the skin to be extremely sensitive to sunlight, resulting in sunburn and blisters).
* Medication. When taking medications you should be aware of all side effects as many can cause skin blisters to appear. One such antibiotic prescribed to patients with urinary tract infections (NegGram), and another which is prescribed in cases of high blood pressure and to reduce swelling/water retention (Lasix) can cause blister formation. Other medications, such as Doxycycline (Vibramycin), an acne medicine, can increase sensitivity to sunlight, thereby increasing the likelihood of getting blistering sunburn. A more severe reaction to medication such as valdecoxib, penicillins, barbiturates, sulfas, and lamotrigine, could cause a severe and life-threatening condition that affects the skin by causing blisters to form that could cover more than 30% of the body. These allergic reactions are called erythema multiforme (known in extreme cases as Stevens-Johnson syndrome) or toxic epidermal necrolysis syndrome (TENS).
2. Blister Treatments:
When caring for and treating blisters, you can choose to either let them heal on their own, or drain them yourself. If the blisters are not obtrusive it's best to let them heal on their own as puncturing the outer layer of skin will create an open wound and increase the likelihood of infection.
Protecting Skin Blisters:
If the blister is not painful or obtrusive, give it a chance to heal on its own. The serum inside the blister works to pad and protect the injured skin. Cover the blister with a gauze bandage to protect it. The blister will eventually heal by itself, the fluid will be reabsorbed and the skin will return to its normal state. If the blister 'pops' or breaks, wash the area with soapy water, and apply a bandage to protect it while it heals.
If your skin blister is large and/or painful, and you choose to drain the fluid - take care to leave the outer skin intact. Follow these steps carefully in order to help your blister heal faster and continue to protect it.
1. Clean the blister with rubbing alcohol or antibacterial soap.
2. Sterilize a straight or safety pin by using pliers to hold it over a flame until the pin glows red and then allowing it to cool.
3. Using the pin, puncture a small hole in the base of the blister.
4. Using GENTLE pressure, drain the blister.
5. Apply an antibiotic ointment to the area like Bacitracin and Polymyxin B - triple antibiotic ointment. Avoid products containing neomycin as this is more likely to cause an allergic reaction.
6. Cover the area with an absorbent, non-stick bandage and change it daily. You may need to change it more often if it becomes wet, dirty, or loose.
In the event that the blister forms a small tear in the outer skin, treat it in the same way as if you had punctured it using the above steps. If the tear is larger, "un-roof" the blister by carefully removing the loose skin with sterilized scissors. Then cleanse the base of the blister with antibacterial soap and water, and apply antibiotic ointment and a bandage as described in steps 5 and 6 above.
Blisters caused by various diseases and illnesses are treated in different ways;
* If eczema is the culprit, a simple corticosteroid cream may be all that is necessary to get rid of blisters.
* Blisters resulting from Herpes Simplex or shingle infections are sometimes treated with antiviral medications.
* An antibiotic cream or pills may be prescribed to eliminate blisters that have come from impetigo.
* In cases of chickenpox or coxsackievirus, the blisters are usually left to go away naturally.
* To lessen the discomfort of the itching, an OTC anti-itch cream, such as Calamine lotion, can be used.
* If you have dermatitis herpetiformis (sensitivity to gluten, found in most grains), you may benefit from a gluten-free diet.
* In the severe case that you have developed erythema multiforme from an allergic reaction to a medicine, you should immediately discontinue the medication and you may be prescribed a corticosteroid cream.
3. Know when to contact your doctor:
If you have blisters accompanied by other signs of illness, such as a fever or malaise (an overall sick feeling), immediately contact your doctor. Also, if the blisters are from an unknown cause or are very painful, you should see your physician. At any sign of infection (increased pain, redness, or swelling; oozing pus or blood; or red streaks in surrounding skin), it is imperative that you consult a physician immediately.