What is a blister?

A blister is a bubble on the skin containing fluid. Blisters are often shaped like a circle. The fluid that forms below the skin can be bloody or clear.

What causes blisters?

Injury, allergic reactions, immune diseases, or infections can cause blisters. These include:

  • Burns or scalds
  • Sunburns
  • Rubbing (friction), such as from shoes rubbing against the skin
  • Atopic dermatitis
  • A contagious skin infection (impetigo)
  • Allergic reactions such as poison ivy
  • A rare, blistering skin disease that often occurs in middle-aged and older adults (pemphigus)
  • A blistering autoimmune disorder that is more common in older adults (pemphigoid)
  • A blistering autoimmune disorder linked to gluten sensitivity that often first appears in adults between ages 30 and 50 (dermatitis herpetiformis)
  • Viral infections such as chickenpox and herpes zoster

What are the symptoms of a blister?

Blisters caused by injury or rubbing (friction) will appear in that one area as a bubble filled with either clear or bloody liquid. Blisters that are due to another condition may appear in one area of your body. Or they may be all over your body. Blisters may be painful or itchy. In some cases the blister may be caused by something that affects the whole body, such as an infection. Then you may also have whole-body symptoms such as fever, pain, or extreme tiredness (fatigue). The symptoms of a blister may look like other skin conditions. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How are blisters diagnosed?

Healthcare providers can often diagnose blisters by looking at your skin. If your provider thinks you may have an infection or a skin disorder, a blister biopsy may be done. A piece of the blister is removed and checked under a microscope. Or a skin culture may be needed.

How are blisters treated?

Blisters often heal on their own without treatment.  If needed, treatment will vary, depending on the cause. Some general guidelines for first aid may include:

  • Wash the area with soap and water.
  • Apply a cold or ice pack which may help reduce swelling and discomfort.
  • Keep the area clean and dry. Don't burst or puncture the blister.
  • If the blister bursts, place a bandage or dressing on the area to keep it clean.
  • Watch the area for signs of infection such as increased warmth, swelling, redness, drainage, pus formation, or pain. If you notice any signs of infection, call your healthcare provider. You may need antibiotics.

Key points about blisters

  • A blister is a bubble on the skin containing fluid.
  • Blisters are caused by injury, allergic reactions, or infections.
  • The symptoms of a blister may look like other skin conditions.
  • If you have whole-body symptoms, such as a fever, talk with your healthcare provider.
  • Blisters often heal on their own.
  • It is important to keep the area clean and dry.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit with your healthcare provider:

  • Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.
  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells you.
  • At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you.
  • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how it will help you. Also know what the side effects are.
  • Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.
  • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
  • Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
  • If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
  • Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.
Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson MSN RN
Medical Reviewer: Maryann Foley RN BSN
© 2000-2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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