What should you do when you get a blister?
It’s the fluid trapped within the blister exerting pressure on your skin that leads to the pain you feel, podiatrist Robert Eckles, D.P.M., M.P.H., an associate professor in the department of orthopedics at the New York College of Podiatric Medicine, tells SELF. Which then leads to one of the biggest questions with blisters: to pop or not to pop?
Unfortunately, there’s no clear-cut answer, says Dr. Eckles—there are experts on both sides of the issue. In fact, while the American Academy of Dermatology recommends against popping a blister in most cases to avoid infection, it does also recognize that if the blister is large and very painful, it may be necessary to drain it. (Caveat: If you have diabetes or poor circulation, you should always check with a doctor before self-treating any blister, as it may rapidly progress to infection and ulceration, says Dr. Eckles.)
Dr. Smith—an advocate of not popping—recommends simply applying an extra layer to protect it and prevent painful friction when you run.
“Take some thin moleskin [a padded adhesive available in any drugstore], cut a hole the size of the blister, and apply the moleskin with the blister fitting in the center of the hole,” says Dr. Smith. “This allows the friction and pressure to be transferred more to the moleskin and less to the blister, and may allow a runner to continue training.” If you don’t have moleskin at home, you can apply a light layer of lubricating jelly (like Vaseline or Aquaphor) over the blister, then cover with an adhesive bandage. Replace this frequently to wash the skin and reduce your chance of infection, he says.
If you must pop, podiatrist Christopher R. Hood Jr., D.P.M., a member of the American Podiatric Medical Association, recommends first cleaning the area with antiseptic and using a sterile instrument to drain the fluid. (Again, anyone whose immune system is compromised should skip popping on their own, and instead loop in their doc. Same if the blister looks infected.)
“One hint when deciding where to place the hole in the blister is to perform this at the ‘bottom,’ or lowest part, of the blister so that gravity will allow it to continue to drain,” says Dr. Hood. “For example, if you have a blister on the back of your heel, place the hole at the six o’clock position so that while you’re standing all day the fluid will run and exit the bottom, versus placing it at the twelve o’clock position, where it would not be able to drain and the fluid would re-collect in the bottom portion.”
Dab on a little antibiotic cream like Neosporin to avoid infection, and then cover the blister on your foot with a bandage. If you notice signs of infection, like if the area becomes red, hot, or swollen, or if you see pus, call your doctor or podiatrist, Dr. Hood says.
If all that sounds gross/like a hassle, here’s how to prevent them in the first place.
“The best way to prevent blisters is to take steps to stop any rubbing or friction from converting an area of irritation to a full-blown blister,” says Dr. Hood. These 10 tips to keep blisters at bay can get you started.
1. Stop running in cotton socks.
Cotton socks may feel soft and comfy, but they may also be the perfect breeding ground for blisters on your feet.
“One-hundred percent cotton socks are not the best, as they absorb sweat and stay moist, thus increasing swelling and friction,” says Dr. Smith. “A material that wicks sweat from the skin through the sock is best.” This includes materials or blends of materials like merino wool, polyester, nylon, spandex, and Teflon.
In fact, socks made of merino are particularly good choices for those who run in cold weather, since along with their wicking ability, they will also help keep your feet warm, says Dr. Hood.