Sunday, April 19, 2009

Apple #381: Blisters

This weekend, it was really nice and sunny here, so I decided to do some yard work. Nobody ever raked up the leaves from last fall, and when the guys come to cut the grass every few weeks, they leave all the clippings so those pile up too. So even though my backyard is quite small, I had a lot of raking to do. And I got a blister on the inside of my thumb. Two of them, actually, one on each hand in almost the exact same spot. But the one on the left hand showed up first and was far worse.

After the blister tore and opened up, smart me started pulling up dandelions, getting my hands good and dirty. Of course I wasn't wearing gloves. And of course I got dirt in that open blister. I thought, ah, that'll wash off.

But two and a half hours later when I was done and washing my hands, though I could get the dirt and mud off of everything else, I couldn't get it to come off of that spot of exposed skin. I tried water, soap and water, hydrogen peroxide, Neosporin. It wouldn't budge.

I slathered on the Neosporin, bandaged it up again, and went about my day. Hours later, it was throbbing. I took off the bandage and looked at it and it was all gooey and bright pink. I touched a Kleenex to the places where the dirt was, and the goo came off and so did the dirt. So I got as much of the dirt off that way as I could, washed it all again, more hydrogen peroxide, more Neosporin, another bandage.

I didn't bandage it up overnight because I remembered my mom saying things about blisters needing to "breathe." (I think now that she must have said this about burns, not blisters.) That turned out to be a bad idea because any time I turned over in my sleep, I managed to brush that open blister against a fold of pillow or sheet and the wincing pain woke me up every single time. Did smart me get up and put a bandage on it? No. Smart me kept trying to sleep like that.

Now today, I kept bandaged it up all day. Felt much better, except when something bonked the place where I have that blister. The skin all around it is quite tender. When I took the bandage off, I saw that the open spot is now a deep, angry red.

Wait a moment! I now have a brand-new digital camera! And I can actually show you what this looks like, instead of trying to find somebody else's photo that is only an approximation!

There it is! That's my thumb! And its blister. On display for the whole world to see. It feels a little strange, actually, showing everybody my thumb. Not that people can't normally see it in real life. But you know what I mean. This is different.

But I shall press on! In the name of science and knowledge and education and all those good things, I show you my thumb!

The blistered place looks even more red and angry in person.

So I want to know, is there anything special about taking care of a blister that I don't already know? Apart from getting a lot of dirt ground into that tender, underneath skin, was there something I did in my blister ministrations that I shouldn't have?

  • For pressure blisters, it's best if you can avoid breaking the blister. The liquid under the skin is called serum. It's what's in your blood minus clotting agents and red blood cells. It acts as a cushion and it contains all sorts of helpful stuff that aids in healing and helps keep away bacteria.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water before touching a blister. Blisters can get infected pretty easily, even if they are unbroken.
  • Most blisters will eventually break on their own, and they are supposed to do that.

Unbroken blisters that developed after walking about 3 miles. Probably in uncomfortable shoes.
(Photo by leeives on Flickr)

  • If a blister is really giving you trouble and it hasn't broken yet and it's painful because it's swollen with fluid, you can break it yourself. If you do that, make sure to use a needle that you've sloshed with alcohol or passed through a flame to sterilize it first.
  • Do not break a blister that has blood in it.
  • Once the blister is broken, wash your hands first (check), apply an antibiotic ointment (like Neosporin, I did that), and cover with a bandage or gauze (I did that, too).
  • Change the bandage any time it gets wet or dirty. (I've gone through lots of bandages because it's hard to get them to stay on my thumb.)
  • A few first aid sites say to remove the flap of dead skin, which is called the "roof," by the way. But most say to leave it alone because it will help to prevent further infection.
  • You should allow the blister about 7 to 10 days to heal.
  • If the blister develops pus, swelling, red streaks leading away from the wound, increasing pain, or gets warm, that is a sign of infection.
  • If it gets crusty and "drains honey-colored fluid," or if you get a fever and chills and vomiting, that's the sign of an especially bad infection, and you'll want to call your doctor ASAP.
  • To prevent getting a blister in the first place, you can apply moleskin (I could never get moleskin to stay stuck for any length of time at all) or you can get these things called blister plasters. Blister plasters are supposed to help protect the skin from friction, or if you already have a blister, they'll also work like a bandage and keep it from getting dinged up any more and promote healing.

Blister plasters are more widely available in the UK. This particular kind is made by a company called Afmeting and sells for €9.95 for a pack of 20 from Happy Steps.

  • Blister plasters are supposed to be especially good at sticking, so you can put them in curvy or complicated spots like the side of a toe or your Achilles heel or the inside of your thumb. If you warm the plaster between your hands for about a minute before applying, it sticks better. The plaster isn't supposed to peel off, even if it gets wet, but some people say it does anyway.
  • Or as my friend Elaine pointed out, I could have worn gloves. That probably would have helped.

Mayo Clinic, Blisters: First aid
WebMD, Blisters - Home Treatment
Sports Injury, Blisters, Intro and Blister treatment, Blister First Aid and Treatment
Sportsactive: Actively tested: Blister plasters,
The Independent, September 31, 2001


  1. I think the only thing you can do is Neosporin and bandages at this point. But I can help you out for future garden excursions...wear gloves!! I learned that the hard way too.

  2. I think your thumb is gonna need intensive rehab and like my mending body would benefit from a brand new Wii system. Don't you think one of us should make the splurge - all in the name of healthy healing of course.

  3. Yes, definitely a Wii all in the name of health.

    Will you get one like this: (scroll down to the part about Nintendo)

  4. Just a note of caution about blisters on the feet for people with circulation problems...get to a doctor. A diabetic friend of mine got a blister, which them became infected with MRSA, and he has now lost two toes; they are trying to save the rest.

  5. Hi! I know this post is ancient, but can you tell me if you remember how your blister turned out because the SAME EXACT thing just happened to me! The raw skin looks black-ish from the dirt that WON'T COME OFF! Thanks in advance!

  6. No, sorry, I don't remember. It healed just fine, apparently. And probably by now, the skin where your blister popped now looks pretty much about the same as the skin around it.


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