When a blister is infected it might bleed on the area when you touch it, or it does not seem to heal on its own at all. Infected blister also tends to be very painful, with a foul smell and peeling of the skin. Blisters form when the skin is injured. They tend to appear on the hands and feet. Friction from tools or shoes can cause them. They are your body’s natural way of shielding itself from more damage. A bubble of fluid accumulates to cushion the wound and give the skin underneath it time to heal. Infected blisters are usually painful. They can also be hazardous if left untreated.

A look at infected blisters

They're bubbles that form when fluid collects in pockets under the epidermis. They can either be filled with pus, blood, or the clear, watery part of your blood known as serum. Most of them are shaped like circles. Depending on the cause of the blister, it could itch or hurt a lot or a little. They can develop as a single bubble or in clusters.

What causes blisters?

Friction

Friction blisters, aptly named for what causes them, are one of the most common kinds of blisters. Have you ever donned a new pair of shoes before you broke them in? Or used a rake or shovel without a pair of gloves on your hands? Those are the sorts of actions that could cause a friction blister on your heel, toe, thumb, or palm.

Cold and Heat

Not wearing gloves in cold weather or winter could cause you to get blisters from frostbite. Stay out during hot weather or summer, in the sun too long; you might get sunburn. The same reaction can happen if you handle frozen goods or get burnt. Extreme temperatures, either hot or cold can hurt your skin. Blisters are a symptom of a kind of second-degree burn referred to as partial thickness.

Contact Dermatitis

Rubbing up against a troublesome plant like poison ivy might end up with you getting blisters of another sort. They’re often a sign of contact dermatitis, which occurs when you touch something you’re allergic to or is irritating to the skin. It doesn’t have to be poisonous. Some people react to soaps, fragrances, detergents, fabrics, jewelry, latex gloves, or items used to make tools, toys, or other everyday objects.

Bug Bites

Insect bites can cause some itchy blisters. Scabies is small mites that drill into your epidermis, sometimes leaving curved lines of blisters in their tracks. They attack the hands, feet, wrists, and under the arms. Flea and bedbug bites can cause tiny blisters, too. The brown recluse spider extra-nasty bite blisters before popping to form a painful open sore. If that describes your blister, see a doctor right away.

Chickenpox & Shingles

Some viruses can cause blistering of the skin. The herpes virus is a common cause. It’s present in chickenpox, a contagious disease that begins with red bumps that get blisters and then scab over. If you have had chickenpox, you are also susceptible to getting shingles, which targets the nerves and grows a painful blistered rash. It is recommended that persons aged 60 and older should get a one-time vaccination against shingles and two doses of chickenpox vaccine for anyone who hasn’t had the disease.

Herpes Simplex

Feverish blisters on your lips, mouth, or genital area are a sign of a herpes simplex virus. The fluid in the sores carries and spreads the virus through contact like sex, or by kissing or sharing utensils with an infected person. Many are unaware that they have herpes because symptoms are usually mild. If you get fever blisters or you think you have been exposed to herpes, consult your doctor. There’s no cure for this viral disease, but certain drugs can prevent or shorten outbreaks.

Hand-Foot-and-Mouth Disease

This ailment is named after where the blisters it causes appear. The infection mostly affects kids younger than 10. The viral infection is spread through contact with mucus, saliva, feces, or popped blisters of someone who’s already sick. The infection begins with a mild fever, a runny nose, and sore throat. But the blisters are the big sign that leads to a diagnosis.

Tips on dealing with blisters

Keep it clean and dry. Some blisters heal on their own. Your skin reabsorbs the fluid, and the blister flattens, and the skin peels off. Until that happens, you can utilize a donut-shaped piece of moleskin padding or tape to prevent it from popping.

Don’t pop a blister if you do not have to. Resist the urge to squeeze or pop a blister unless it’s so large or painful that it causes you discomfort. In this case, your doctor might decide to pierce it with a sterile needle and drain the fluid out. Once it is popped, whether your doctor does it or it breaks on its own, gently clean the area with soap and water and apply an antibiotic ointment. Wrap the affected part with a bandage to keep it clean during the day, but take it off at night to let it dry.

Why do blisters get infected?

A blister can get infected by microbes that invade it leading to an infection. A bacterial, viral, or fungal infection that begins in your blister can spread to other parts of the body. It can even result in sepsis which is a life-threatening infection of the bloodstream.

How does a healthy blister look like?

It is crucial to know what a health blister looks like.The blister top develops a protective layer, and the fluid within behaves like a cushion that comprises of cellular and platelet factors, which further minimize damage to the underlying tissue and enhances healing, usually in seven to ten days. The fluid is typically straw-colored or clear (serum) but may also be filled with blood. The blister top retains the fluid sterile, and it is not common for the blisters to become infected in case it remains intact. The initial and most important step is to keep the blister top intact — do not pick at or remove it.

In case the blister is large, you can use a darning needle or pin — sterilized with alcohol or heat to create a small hole at the lower region of the blister that enables the fluid to drain. Do this only if it is necessary, as after the blister top layer has been breached by pricking or removal, the risk of infection is high. In case the blister top is gone or open, a great covering is Duoderm Extra Thin burn dressing accessible over the counter (OTC) in the pharmacy. In case it is unavailable to you, use a bandage that will only adhere to the surrounding normal skin and not the wounded area. In case this sounds like your blister, take a chill pill, your blister is likely not infected, and there is no reason to panic.

Symptoms of an infected blister

It’s sometimes difficult to distinguish between an infected blister and an uninfected one. Often, blisters are tender and painful, some more than others. However, there are some reliable signs you can be on the look for. Before examining your blister, clean your hands with warm water and soap to avoid introducing any bacteria to it. With clean hands, feel the area surrounding the blister for signs of:

  • warmth
  • a foul smell
  • pus
  • pain
  • punctures or peeling skin

Your blister may be infected if the area bleeds when you touch it or doesn’t seem to be healing on its own at all.

How to treat and care for an infected blister?

If you suspect that your blister might be infected, consult your doctor as soon as possible. Several various things can cause infections, so your doctor can perform tests to determine the cause. Once your doctor identifies what is causing the infection, they can prescribe:

  • oral or topical antibiotic medication
  • oral or topical antifungal medicine
  • They can also perform a fast in-office procedure to drain the blister. It is critical that you leave this part to your doctor. Doing it by yourself can make the infection worse or cause it to spread to nearby areas.

How to drain a blister safely?

To drain a blister that is big, painful, or in an awkward spot:
1. Clean the area well.
2. Sterilize a needle with some rubbing alcohol and water.
3. Make a small incision at the edge of the blister and gently squeeze out the fluid.
4. Clean the blister again and pat it dry. Don’t remove the skin covering the blister, instead smooth it down.
5. Apply antibiotic ointment to prevent infection.
6. Wrap the area loosely with a sterile bandage or gauze.

Follow up tips:

  • a. Switch the bandage daily or whenever it gets dirty or damp.
  • b. Avoid wearing shoes or performing the activity that caused the blistering until it heals.
  • c. Wear thick socks or gloves to prevent blisters on the feet or hands.
  • d. Consult a doctor if you see any signs of infection.
  • e. Before seeing your doctor, there are a few things you can do at home to ease your symptoms and combat the infection
  • f. Clean the wound. Run it under warm water and gently massage the blister with soap. Continue rinsing and cleaning the area for three to five minutes. Do this at least twice a day.
  • e. Soak the wound. Soak your wound in a saline solution. You can make it by adding a teaspoon of salt to a cup of warm water.
  • g. Treat the wound. After cleaning both your hands and the wound, apply an antibiotic ointment.
  • h. Treat the pain. Take a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory pain killer like ibuprofen (Advil), to help reduce pain and swelling.

Infected blister: Are there any complications?

If left untreated, serious infections can start to spread to other parts of your body. Also, bacteria can penetrate the blistered skin and result in cellulitis. This is a fast spreading skin infection. It can suddenly become a medical emergency if it gets to your lymph nodes or bloodstream.

Infected blisters can also cause sepsis in severe cases. This occurs when certain chemicals discharged by your immune system trigger a chain reaction. Eventually, this can cause septic shock which is fatal about half the time. However, most recover from milder forms of sepsis.

When to call a doctor? It’s best to visit your doctor when you suspect your blister is infected to avoid complications, which can be very grave. If you notice a red streak running up your leg, rush to the emergency room immediately. This is a symptom of cellulitis. It needs immediate treatment to stop it from spreading too far. You should also see a physician or go to urgent care if you have:

  • a fever
  • chills
  • body aches
  • a blister or sore that’s not showing any indication of healing
  • Blisters around your eye area or on your genitals are also cause for concern.

Blisters aren’t anything to worry about. Most get better on their own in a week or two weeks. While most never become infected, it is a cause for concern when they do. If you engage in a lot of activities that cause friction blisters, consider having some antibiotic ointment on hand to decrease your risk of infection. Make sure to see a doctor at the first sign of an infection to avoid complications.

How to prevent traumatic blisters?

Traumatic blisters from friction, sunburn, or chemicals are best prevented with a couple of methods. To start, it is always best to wear the appropriate equipment; you should always wear gloves when handling chemicals and choose the proper shoes for a given activity,

Avoid sandals for hiking or running instead wear specific running shoes for the surface and kind of activity, and footwear made for each sport, court, and surface. Break in new shoes or work boots. For regions you know are prone to blisters use athletic tape, moleskin, or a protective bandage. Put on fitted, moisture wicking socks for sports, intensive gym training and running. For hiking or work boots, layer a thin sock within one that is slightly heavier to decrease friction even more.

Sunscreen is also essential; Wear a good balanced sunscreen — preferably with clear zinc oxide twenty percent on its own, or at least fifteen percent with another particle type filter like titanium dioxide or encapsulated octinoxate at 5-7.5%. These achieve adequate SPF and UVA protection. Avoid soluble filters like oxybenzone, avobenzone, and homosalate, octisalate, octocrylene, etc. They reach blood from absorption through the skin, give little UVA protection, and are all common photo contact allergens that may cause blistering in predisposed individuals, after repeated use and exposure to sunlight.

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