Blisters tend to form whenever a deeper skin layer is damaged and the surface skin remains intact. As the body sends serum and other fluids to the injury site, a liquid-filled pocket often forms. This pocket is commonly referred to as a blister. Blisters are not the same as callouses, which tend to form over skin abrasions and are not filled with liquid.
Causes of blisters
The most common causes of blisters are burns, abrasions, and foreign objects under the skin. Their formation is usually not the problem in a first aid situation- blisters are a natural reaction to an injury below the skin’s surface. The real problem with blisters is protecting the injured area from further infection or damage. Treating a blister on the hands essentially means keeping it clean and intact until it can heal naturally.
A typical scenario for blistering involves second-degree burns. A victim’s hand contacts a high heat source and the skin becomes very red from the burn. The body’s natural defenses send out white blood cells and serum to the burned area in order to begin the healing process. Meanwhile, some of the damaged skin begins to shed dead or infected cells.
Bacteria may also begin to infect the wound and cause the formation of pus. All of these fluids are trapped beneath several layers of skin, and the pressure raises the area over the wound. In this scenario, the good white cells and serum are protecting the damaged skin and attacking the bacteria, but the resulting fluids have nowhere to escape. This is why blisters formed by burns can be so large and painful.
Treatment and prevention
In order to treat any blister on the hands, no matter the cause, you must first clean the area surrounding the wound. Because any excessive scrubbing may be extremely painful or lead to premature popping, the best way to cleanse a blister is with a gentle bath of hydrogen peroxide or sterile water. Blistered hands should be patted dry, not scrubbed.
Once the area around the wound has been carefully cleaned, the blister itself should be examined. The most troubling development with a blister would be signs of blood. A blood blister should never be opened without proper medical training. The best first aid in the case of a blood blister would be to wrap the blister loosely with a sterile bandage and tape. Blood blisters can lead to blood infections such as septicemia, so victims should be taken to trained medical personnel as quickly as possible.
For blisters with clear liquid, the best treatment is to apply a layer of antibiotic cream or ointment and then wrap the blister loosely with a sterile gauze bandage. If the fluid appears discolored, especially yellow or green, then the victim needs to be seen by a doctor quickly. Discolored blisters may indicate a serious infection, which can enter the bloodstream and cause more serious problems.
If the blister is relatively small and the liquid is clear, then further medical treatment shouldn’t be necessary. Keep the blister clean and dry, changing out the bandages regularly. If the blister should happen to break, wash the area thoroughly with an antiseptic such as hydrogen peroxide or a Bactine-type product. Blisters should remain intact whenever possible, but they will occasionally break from pressure or naturally as they heal.