Blister Care

A few weeks ago I wrote about my hiking sandals and my slight disappointment with getting a blister while wearing them. To be fair, I exceeded the distance limit for these sandals’ optimal performance. It got me thinking about blister prevention and care though. Nothing can ruin a hiking trip like a painful blister.

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What is a blister? It’s a little pocket of fluid in the upper layers of skin after damage from friction. You can technically get a blister anywhere, but your hands and feet are the most common places. The fluid bubble has a purpose. It protects the tissue beneath by cushioning it from further damage. Common blisters from where your shoes rub are filled with a clear fluid called serum. A blister can also fill with pus if it becomes infected. Uninfected blisters heal naturally in about three to seven days.

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Blister Care

Should you pop a blister? Not really, but I’ll admit that I broke this rule during our Florida vacation because we had lots of walking left to do. If you’re going to go against the professional medical advice on blister bursting, just know that you are introducing the possibility of infection into the situation. 

How do you treat a blister once it forms? Keeping the skin intact offers the best protection against infection. Since we’re mainly talking about blisters on the feet, there are a few things you can do to ease discomfort. You can cover small blisters with band-aid and larger ones with gauze and tape. That way, if it bursts, you don’t have a gross mess or your sweaty sock contacting the wound. You can cut some gauze into a doughnut shape around the blister on the sole of your foot to keep direct pressure off the fluid pocket. 

What do you do when a blister pops on its own? Don’t peel off the skin because you’ll expose a larger wound area to infection. Allow the serum to drain and wash with mild soap and water. Dress the area with a band-aid or gauze. Antibacterial creams may boost the healing process. The outer skin may rub off on its own, and that’s ok. Just keep the area clean and dressed. If you can avoid wearing the shoes that caused the blister until it heals, that helps too.

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Hiking With A Blister

The above care instructions work best if you are on a short hike or day trip. But what do you do if you’re out on the trail for multiple days or don’t have alternative shoes? Here is some in-the-field advice that I’ve gathered from some major hiking pages.

First, a treat hot spot, which is the precursor to a blister. Take off your shoes and have a look. Even if the skin isn’t red and raw yet, apply some medical tape, band-aid, or moleskin to prevent forming a blister. Carefully remove the tape when you get home. 

You may have to field treat a blister with alcohol wipes, a needle, and dressing when you field-pop a blister. Wash your hands and the affected food. Serialize the needle with flame, alcohol, or boiling water. Make a small hole on the side of the blister. You want to maintain the integrity of the small skin flap to minimize possible infection. Gently push the fluid out, apply antibiotic cream, and dress the area. You can cover the dressing with duct tape to prevent rubbing in your shoe for the remainder of your hike. 

I field-popped and dressed my blister last fall while in Florida. Luckily, it was small and the treatment made it 100% better by the next morning. It’s not ideal, but if you need to do it, now you know how.

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