Blisters -- painful fluid-filled bubbles on your skin -- can form as a response to friction. Far from being abnormal, they are a frequent runner's complaint. Sports Injury Bulletin classifies blisters as the most common sports injury. Although they can be painful, blisters aren't of much medical consequence unless they become infected. If you notice pus, redness and warm skin at the blister site, or if you have a fever, consult your doctor promptly. Most blisters heal by themselves when you remove the source of the friction. Proper treatment can reduce chances of infection.
Blisters, medically known as vesicles, can form as a result of pressure on your skin from improperly fitting running shoes and socks. Running longer distances than usual, heat, humidity and sweating may also play a role. Symptoms include stinging pain and swelling around the blister site. The blister may break open and ooze clear liquid. The usual healing time for a blister is three to seven days.
A blister occurs when skin layers become separated by friction created during activity. Hydrostatic pressure then pushes fluid from adjacent tissues into the spaces between the layers. This causes your cells -- inflamed by the friction and the influx of fluid -- to send pain signals to your brain. The more pressure and friction applied to an area, the higher the chances of a blister. Moist skin is more susceptible to blisters than dry skin or skin that is completely wet. With dry skin, only the outermost layer -- the stratum corneum -- is sloughed off, with these cells forming a protective barrier over remaining skin. Very wet skin also has less susceptibility to blisters because of less friction.
The best treatment for a blister is to keep the skin intact; this provides a protective barrier against bacteria and decreases infection risk. Use an antibiotic ointment and apply a moleskin "doughnut," which forms a protective ring around the blister. If the blister prevents you from walking, puncture it as long as you don't have poor circulation or diabetes. After washing your hands and the blister with soap and water, swab the blister -- and the needle you plan to use -- with rubbing alcohol, then puncture the blister in several places near the edge. After the fluid drains, apply antibiotic ointment and an adhesive bandage. In a few days, trim away the remaining dead skin of the blister with sterilized scissors and apply more antibiotic ointment and a bandage.
Properly fitting shoes are essential to prevent blisters on toes and other parts of the foot. Shoes that are too tight can cause pressure, while shoes that are too loose increase the movement of the foot within the shoe. There should be 1/2 inch between the end of your longest toe and the shoe, leaving you room to wiggle your toes. Socks must fit without bunching; choose acrylic or polyester fabrics over cotton or wool. Placing a moleskin doughnut over vulnerable areas can be effective. Avoid lubricants -- such as petroleum jelly -- if you are going to run for more than hour; after an hour, ointments and lotions actually increase chances of a blister. You should also avoid drying powders such as talcum powder. These can have an abrasive effect, especially when mixed with sweat.
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