A blister is a bump that is filled with fluid. Two of the most common types of blisters are fever blisters and blisters on your heel or hands.
Fever blisters, also called “cold sores” are caused by the type I herpes virus and usually occur on the outside of the mouth, on the lips, chin, cheeks or inside the nostrils.
These are often confused with canker sores, which occur only in the mouth. If fever blisters appear in the mouth they form on the gums or roof of the mouth, and are usually smaller than canker sores.
Cold sores are extremely contagious and are usually spread by kissing, but can also spread by touching the cold sore and then touching other people. Only about “10 percent of oral herpes infections in adults result from oral-genital sex with a person who has active genital herpes (type 2).” (National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research)
Interestingly, “[m]ost people infected with type 1 herpes ... became infected before they were 10 years old. The virus usually invades the moist membrane cells of the lips, throat or mouth.” (National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research)
Only about 15 percent of people who are infected actually develop blisters inside and outside the mouth, usually within three to five days of infection. Other accompanying symptoms may include fever, swollen neck glands and general aches. The sores usually heal within two weeks and without scarring.
Even though the fever blisters might be gone, the virus lies dormant until stimulated, usually by: fever, cold or flu; ultraviolet radiation; stress; changes in the immune system; and trauma to the involved area. Sometimes there is no obvious reason for recurring symptoms. (MedicineNet.com)
So far, there is no cure for fever blisters. Treatment concentrates on alleviating the associated pain and discomfort, including anesthetic and antibiotic ointments. To prevent the spread of the virus, frequent hand washing is recommended as well as limited body contact with other people.
Friction Blisters and Burns
Many of us have experienced a blister on our heel or toes from a shoe rubbing, or on our hands after not wearing gloves while raking up leaves or grass. Blisters may also form as a result of burns, whether by contact with a heat source or hot surface, or by sunburn.
For sunburn-related blisters it is important to replace the skin’s moisture as soon as possible. There are a variety of products that can help alleviate the pain and discomfort associated with sunburn blisters.
Quick healing and prevention of further skin damage as a result depends on keeping the areas hydrated and moisturized. Applying creams with cucumber extract, aloe, and shea butter are all good options.
If you have come into direct contact with a heat source or hot surface, immediately rinse the spot under cold water for a couple of minutes.
Beware of symptoms such as increased pain, swelling and redness or warmth around the blister, red streaks that extend away from the blister, drainage of pus from the blister (honey-colored fluid), which may indicate a beginning infection. Seek medical attention immediately.
Friction blisters require different care.
1. “If the blister isn’t too painful, try to keep it intact. Unbroken skin over a blister provides a natural barrier to bacteria and decreases the risk of infection.
2. “Cover a small blister with an adhesive bandage, and cover a large one with a porous, plastic-coated gauze pad that absorbs moisture and allows the wound to breathe.
3. “Don’t puncture a blister unless it’s painful or prevents you from walking or using ... your hands.
4. “If you have diabetes or poor circulation, call your doctor before considering ... self-care measures below ...
5. “Wash your hands and the blister with soap and warm water.
6. “Swab the blister with iodine or rubbing alcohol.
7. “Sterilize a clean, sharp needle by wiping it with rubbing alcohol.
8. “Use the needle to puncture the blister. Aim for several spots near the blister’s edge. Let the fluid drain, but leave the overlying skin in place.
9. “Apply an antibiotic ointment to the blister and cover with a bandage or gauze pad.
10. “Cut away all the dead skin after several days, using tweezers and scissors sterilized with rubbing alcohol. Apply more ointment and a bandage.
“Call your doctor if you see signs of infection around a blister – pus, redness, increasing pain or warm skin. (MayoClinic.com)”
Cold Sores (Herpes Simplex Infections, Non-Genital). Medicinenet.com. Web 15 Sept. 2011.
Fever Blisters and Canker Sores. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. Web 15 Sept. 2011.
Blisters. WebMD.com. Web 15 Sept. 2011.
Blisters: First Aid. MayoClinic.com. Web 15 Sept. 2011. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/first-aid-blisters/WL00008
Reviewed September 15, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith