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A blister, which is also called a vesicle by medical professionals, is a raised portion of skin that is filled with fluid. You are probably familiar with blisters from wearing uncomfortable shoes for too long.
This common cause of blistering produces vesicles when friction between your skin and the shoe causes layers of skin to separate and fill with fluid.
Blisters are often annoying, painful, or uncomfortable. In most cases, they are not a symptom of anything serious and will heal without any medical intervention.
Some infections can cause skin blistering that requires treatment. And in rare cases a skin condition may produce blisters. If you ever have unexplained blistering on your skin, you should see your doctor for a diagnosis.
If you know the cause of your blister, you can treat it by covering it with bandages to keep it protected. Eventually the fluids will seep back in and the blister will disappear. At times, leaving the blister heal by itself without doing anything will work best.
You should not puncture a blister unless it is very painful, as the skin over the fluid protects you from infection.
There are many temporary causes of blisters. Friction occurs when something rubs against your skin for a prolonged period of time. This happens most commonly on hands and feet.
Contact dermatitis can also cause blisters. This is a skin reaction to allergens, like poison ivy, latex, adhesives, or irritants like chemicals or pesticides. It can cause red, inflamed skin and blistering.
Burns, if severe enough, can produce blistering. This includes burns from heat, chemicals, and sunburns.
Allergic eczema is a skin condition that is caused or worsened by allergens and can produce blisters. Another type of eczema, dyshidrotic eczema, also causes blistering, but its cause is unknown, and it tends to come and go.
Blistering can also be a symptom of certain infections.
Impetigo, a bacterial infection of the skin that can occur in both children and adults, can cause blisters.
Chickenpox, an infection caused by a virus, produces itchy spots, and often blisters on the skin.
The same virus that causes chickenpox also causes shingles, or herpes zoster. The virus reappears in some people later in life and produces a skin rash with fluid vesicles that can rupture.
Herpes and the resulting cold sores can cause skin blistering.
Erysipelas is an infection caused by the Streptococcus group of bacteria, which produces skin blisters as a symptom.
More rarely, blisters are the result of a skin condition. For many of these rare conditions, the cause is unknown. A few skin conditions that cause blisters include:
Most blisters require no treatment. If you leave them alone, they will go away, and the top skin layers prevent infection.
If possible, you should refrain from puncturing or breaking them open. Blisters caused by friction, allergens, and burns are temporary reactions to stimuli. In these cases, the best treatment is to avoid what is causing your skin to blister.
The blisters caused by infections are also temporary, but they may require treatment. If you suspect you may have some type of infection, you should see your doctor.
In addition to medication for the infection, your doctor may be able to give you something to treat the symptoms. If there is a known cause for the blisters, such as contact with a certain chemical or use of a drug, use of that product should be discontinued.
Some conditions that can cause blisters, such as pemphigus, do not have a cure. Your doctor can prescribe treatments that will help you manage symptoms. This may include steroid creams to relieve skin rashes or antibiotics to cure skin infections.
In most cases, blisters are not part of a life-threatening condition. Most will go away without treatment, but may cause you pain and discomfort in the meantime.
The quantity of blisters you have, and whether these have ruptured or have become infected is important in the prognosis of your condition. If you treat an infection that is causing blisters, your outlook is good. For rare skin conditions, how well treatments work will depend on the individual situation.
For the most common of blisters — those caused by friction on the skin of your feet — you can practice basic preventive measures. Always wear comfortable, well-fitting shoes.
If you will be walking for a long period of time, use thickly cushioned socks to reduce friction. As you walk, you may feel a blister beginning to form. Stop and protect this area of skin with a bandage to prevent further friction.
Written by: Mary Ellen Ellis
Medically reviewed on: Jun 02, 2016: University of Illinois-Chicago, College of Medicine
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