When someone comes in to my office with a burn or really any type of condition that causes a blister I’m almost always asked what’s the best treatment—specifically, should they pop the blister or not pop?
Over the years, I’ve come up with some blister treatment guidelines. But first I should tell you why just popping all blisters is not always the best plan.
Why a Blister Can Speed Healing
Blistering is one of our body’s methods of healing wounds. This is especially important with deep burns (which heal slowly and easily get infected).
The protective outer layer of skin keeps the wound sterile. The blister fluid constantly bathes the wound in nutrients that helps the wound heal faster. In fact, an intact blister is essentially the perfect sterile dressing.
An intact blister is the perfect sterile dressing. But beware if it pops.
But … If a Blister Leaks …
Once a blister starts leaking, however—even a small amount—it’s no longer sterile. Bacteria can sneak through even the tiniest of openings and will thrive in that same fluid that works so well for feeding the tissue. This can cause a bad infection.
How to Prevent Friction Blisters
1. Always wear shoes that fit well.
2. If there’s an area of skin that’s rubbing, consider coating it with petroleum jelly (Vaseline) or applying duct tape to the inner shoe to smooth over any rough spot. Or you could try adhering the tape directly to your skin after cutting hole in the tape to take pressure off the area of concern.
If the blister starts leaking it’s best to go ahead and open up the hole further (with sterile scissors, or a needle that’s been under a hot flame long enough for the tip to become red; cool before using) to let all the fluid drain out. Then, clean the area, and apply ointment and a dressing like you would with any other wound.
It’s not necessary to cut the entire blister away since it can still protect the injured area underneath, but as time goes on, some of the blister skin may die. If that happens, you can cut the dead skin away as needed. If the scissors aren’t sterile, clean them thoroughly and soak them in alcohol or a povidone-iodine (Betadine) solution for 20 minutes.
When to Pop an Intact Blister
Some blisters almost always start leaking, and it’s usually best just to go ahead and pop those even before they leak, as you would a leaking one. Then treat them as noted above. These blisters include:
- Blisters on the palms, under the shoe area, and over joints.
- Blisters that are over 1 inch in diameter. Their size makes them hard to keep intact.
Remember, though, these are only blister treatment suggestions—general guidelines. It’s never a must that you should pop or not. For your specific circumstances, you or your doctor is the best judge.
For instance, if you’re not very active, or a blister on one of the above areas is small, or you just want to take a chance, you might decide to leave a questionable blister intact. But once it leaks, you must then always treat it as an open wound.
Blisters photo: Flickr/K-Free.