Blisters are raised bubbles under the top layer of your skin that are filled with fluid. This fluid might be a clear liquid, blood, or pus. Regardless of what they’re filled with, blisters can be very uncomfortable, especially if they’re on a part of your body that you use a lot.
You’ve probably heard that it’s best to leave blisters alone. While this is true, it’s not always practical. Read on to learn how to tell when it might be time to take things into your own hands and how to do it safely.
Before popping a blister, it’s important to first determine what kind of blister you have. While all blisters share some common features, they aren’t all good candidates for popping on your own.
Popping a friction blister
Friction blisters are caused by repeated pressure or rubbing, which creates irritation. They can form from wearing shoes that don’t fit properly, especially if they’re too tight. While they can form in any area that’s exposed to friction, the hands and feet are common sites.
Once you remove the source of friction, the fluid usually drains on its own within a few days. You’ll then develop a new layer of skin under the blister. Once the skin has developed, the skin from the original blister will fall off.
If the blister continues to be exposed to friction, it can take several weeks to heal. In the meantime, the blister may pop on its own, oozing fluid. This also leaves the blister vulnerable to infection. If you have a friction blister that you can’t protect from irritation, such as one on the index finger of your dominant hand, you might want to consider safely popping it to avoid infection.
Popping a blood blister
Blood blisters are friction blisters that contain a mix of blood and clear fluid. They’re usually red when they first form. Over time, they can become more purple in color. The blood comes from broken blood vessels under the raised pocket of skin.
While they look slightly different, blood blisters and friction blisters follow the same course of healing and can be treated similarly. Again, you should only pop a blood blister if you can’t avoid using the affected area.
Popping a fever blister
Fever blisters, also called cold sores, are red blisters filled with fluid. They form on the face, usually near the mouth. They can also appear on the nose, inside the mouth, or on the fingers. A few fever blisters often form together as a clump.
Fever blisters are caused by the herpes simplex virus, which is easily spread to others through close contact. Never pop a fever blister. It won’t help it heal any faster and you run the risk of spreading the virus to other areas of your skin or to other people.
If you have a friction or blood blister in a frequently used area that has a high risk of rupturing on its own, it may be best to pop it yourself to make sure it’s properly protected against infection.
Just keep in mind that blisters usually heal on their own within a few days. Popping a blister disrupts this natural process, and it could mean that your blister will take a little longer to completely disappear. You’ll also need to keep a close eye on it after you pop it to monitor for signs of infection.
If you’re looking for a quick, easy fix, your best option is to just let the blister run its course. For added protection, you can apply moleskin to the blister. Learn how to apply it.
But if you do need to pop a blister, follow these steps to minimize your risk of infection or other complications:
- Wash your hands and the blister. Wash your hands with soap and warm water. Clean the surface of the blister thoroughly with alcohol, iodine, or an antiseptic wash.
- Disinfect a needle with alcohol. Soak a needle for at least 20 seconds in rubbing alcohol to disinfect it.
- Carefully puncture the blister. Poke three or four shallow holes around the edge of the blister. You want to keep as much of the skin intact as possible. Allow the fluid to drain out.
- Cover the blister with ointment. Apply an ointment, such as petroleum jelly, to the blister.
- Apply a dressing. Cover the blister tightly with a bandage or gauze. You want the intact skin of the blister to press against the underlying skin.
- Repeat if necessary. Blisters tend to fill back up quickly. You may need to perform these steps every six to eight hours for the first 24 hours. After that, change the dressing and apply ointment daily.
Popped blisters are more open to infections than blisters that are left to heal on their own. If you do pop a blister, make sure to keep an eye out for any signs of an infection, such as:
- pus draining out of the blister
- a foul smell coming from the blister
- skin around the blister that’s warm to the touch
- pain around the blister
- swelling around the blister
If you notice any of these signs, see a doctor as soon as possible to prevent the infection from becoming more severe. You should also follow up with a doctor if the area doesn’t seem to be healing at all after a day or two.
Blisters are often tempting to pop, regardless of their size or location. But this usually just draws out the healing process and increases your risk of developing an infection. But in some cases, popping a blister can prevent it from rupturing under less-than-sanitary conditions. If you decide to go this route, make sure to do it safely and keep a careful eye on the area for any signs of an infection.