A blister is your body’s way of telling you to ease off on what you’re doing, whether it’s a long hike or chopping wood. They are of course the result of too much friction, possibly from poor fitting shoes or not wearing work gloves. There are several opinions on how to treat them.
The first thing to decide is whether or not to drain the fluid from the blister, which depends on its size and location. If the blister is small and not located where it will cause discomfort, you could just leave it alone. If the blister is causing some pain, or if there’s a chance of breaking it through use and perhaps causing more pain and injury, then you may want to drain it.
One way to do this is to prick the side of the blister with a sterilized needle. Another way is to use a sterilized razor blade to carefully make an incision just deep enough and wide enough to squeeze the fluid out. Either way, it is very important to sterilize the instrument. The simplest way is with alcohol, but you can also heat the needle or blade until it is red hot and let it cool.
A mistake often made after draining a blister is to remove the skin over it. This will leave a raw, very tender area that will take longer to heal, so leave the skin on to protect the wound. It will eventually dry out and fall off on its own.
Next, treat the area with an antibiotic ointment. A dressing to protect the area while it is healing is a good idea. A Band-Aid is fine if it’s big enough, but if not use sterilized gauze pads. Give the blister some air nightly by removing the dressing when you’re inactive. Be alert for signs of infection: redness, swelling, heat, and increased pain. Other danger signs are that the fluid coming out of the blister is not clear, or has some odor to it. If any of these signs are present, head for the doctor.
Preventing blisters is the best way to walk that extra mile or hoe that last row. If you’re prone to get blister on your hands, wear gloves. For your feet, always wear socks when wearing shoes. Applying baby powder to your feet before putting on socks can help reduce friction. Also, petroleum jelly applied to blister prone areas such as the heel is also good. Fitted socks (those with a heel) are recommended rather than tube socks.
If you hike, hunt or do any activity that requires a lot of walking, carry some moleskin with you. This is a thin pad with a real sticky back that you can apply to areas that may be rubbing and hopefully prevent blisters from forming. It can be cut to size and is available at the drug store.
A good book on first aid is “Home Remedies,” published by Rodale Press.
Steve Roark is the area forester in Tazewell, Tennessee, for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, Forestry Division.