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Friction Blisters - Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

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Friction blisters of the skin are among the most common types of blisters. Read the article below to know more.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Filza Hafeez

Published At August 24, 2022
Reviewed AtMay 28, 2024

What Is a Friction Blister?

A friction blister refers to a soft pocket of raised skin filled with clear fluid caused by continuous rubbing of the skin against another object or clothing. It often occurs on the palms, fingers, soles, sides of the feet, and toes. These fluid-filled pockets are painful but can be treated quickly at home.

What Causes Friction Blisters?

A friction blister is caused by continuous contact, pressure, and movement between the skin and the object touching it. The irritation causes minor damage to the skin and the tissue underneath, leading to fluid accumulation beneath the outermost layer of skin.

What Does Friction Look Like?

Rubbing on the skin first scrapes off surface cells, causing the skin to redden and heat up. Blisters occur in areas where the stratum corneum is thick, like the soles and palms of the hands. If the blister remains intact, the fluid gets refilled, and the damaged skin peels off later.

What Are the Risk Factors for Friction Blisters?

Friction blisters occur at any age, equally in both men and women. Some of the risk factors include:

  • Heat is prevalent in tropical climates.

  • Prolonged or vigorous exercise is most common in athletes and soldiers. However, some repetitive low-intensity exercises may also cause skin hardening due to callus formation (epidermal thickening).

  • Carrying a heavy object increases the risk of getting blisters.

  • Hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating) of the skin, so the skin splits more easily.

  • Tight, uncomfortable, or new shoes or clothing repeatedly rubbing against the skin.

  • Non-absorbent or thin socks do not absorb moisture well and do not protect the skin adequately from damage by shoes or boots.

  • Rough or rugged fabrics may cause blisters on other sites, such as armpits or groin.

  • Blisters may also form on pressure areas such as the hip.

How to Diagnose Friction Blisters?

Friction blisters generally do not need a doctor’s attention. Therefore, tests are not necessary for these blisters. However, the following investigations may be considered when blisters are frequent, extensive, or not healing.

  • Swab test to check for any bacterial infection with Staphylococcus aureus or Staphylococcus pyogenes.

  • Skin biopsy.

  • Genetic tests are needed if epidermolysis bullosa (fragile, blistering skin) is suspected.

How Long Does It Take Friction Blisters to Heal?

Mostly friction blisters heal naturally on their own in a few days. Make sure to bandage the blister and wear different shoes while it heals. Consult a healthcare provider if someone has blisters from burns or frostbite or thinks the blisters could be infected.

What Are the Possible Complications of Friction Blisters?

Most friction blisters usually heal up quickly in a few days without scarring. However, seek medical help if the blister does not improve after a few days. Healing is sometimes delayed due to various reasons:

  • Wound Infection: This presents increased pain and redness around the blister, a red streak, and pus formation.

  • The pyogenic granuloma (red lumps with moist surfaces that appear on the skin) may occasionally occur at the blister site some days later.

  • Scarring due to infection.

How to Treat Friction Blisters?

Friction blisters generally heal on their own within a few days. However, do not resume the activity that caused the blister until it has healed completely. The following steps are recommended to treat a friction blister:

  • Dressings are helpful to protect blisters from further damage. Loosely cover the blister with a bandage, and change the dressing at least once daily.

  • Use foam padding, cushioning, and protective barrier products to protect blisters in pressure areas, such as the sole of the feet.

  • Avoid popping or breaking a blister as the skin on the blister protects deeper layers of skin from infection. However, in cases of a large and painful blister, it may be necessary to drain the blister to reduce discomfort.

  • Keep the area clean and covered. Once the blister has drained, wash the area with mild soap and water and apply petroleum jelly. Keep the blister's roof intact to reduce pain; if the roof comes off, leaving an eroded skin surface, clean the wound carefully and apply a clean dressing.

Some natural remedies to treat friction blisters are:

  • Use of aloe vera.

  • Eucalyptus oil.

  • Petroleum jelly.

  • Tea-tree oil.

How to Prevent Friction Blisters?

Friction blisters are painful skin irritations that can occur anywhere on the body where body parts rub together or against any object or clothing. Fortunately, friction blisters are preventable. Pay more attention to the skin to stop them before they appear, and take precautions while walking, running, or doing other physical activity.

To prevent skin rubbing that can lead to blisters, dermatologists recommend the following tips:

  • To prevent blisters on the feet, wear nylon or moisture-absorbing socks. Wear two pairs of socks if wearing one pair of socks does not help protect the skin. Wear well-fitting shoes.

  • While doing any physical activity, wear moisture-absorbent, proper-fitting clothes. Avoid wearing clothes made of cotton, as cotton soaks up sweat and moisture, which can lead to friction.

  • Consider using soft bandages for pressure areas like feet or thighs.

  • Apply powder, antiperspirant, or petroleum jelly to problem areas like feet and thighs. It helps in reducing friction when skin rubs together or against clothing.

  • Stop the activity immediately if someone starts experiencing pain or discomfort or if the skin turns red to avoid getting a blister.

  • Wear gloves to protect the hands if doing activities that require manual labor.

When to Consult a Doctor?

Widespread blisters, itchy blisters, and the occurrence of blisters in regions that are not exposed to rubbing should be evaluated by the doctor. These are signs of illness and not blisters. In case of blisters medical attention is required only when infection develops. This occurs when the skin covering the blister is pierced, broken, or popped.

Conclusion:

Friction blisters are one of the most common kinds of blisters. These painful skin irritations can occur when body parts rub against clothing. They usually heal naturally within a few days, but visiting a doctor becomes necessary if blisters get infected. There are several options for preventing blisters. Most involve preparation and caution.

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Dr. Filza Hafeez

Dermatology

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