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Blisters are pockets of skin filled with fluid. Friction from skin, socks, or shoes can cause blisters between the toes. Blisters are also a symptom of some skin conditions.
In most cases, blisters go away on their own without treatment within 1–2 weeks. Blisters that are the result of a skin condition may be itchy and require medical treatment.
This article looks at possible causes of blisters between the toes and how people can treat them safely.
Different types of blisters can appear between the toes for various reasons:
The most common type of blister on the foot is a friction blister that appears when friction irritates the skin. This can happen when the toes rub against one another, or something else, such as a part of a shoe.
Certain risk factors increase the likelihood of developing a friction blister on the toes, including:
- warm and moist skin, such as when feet sweat in hot shoes
- extreme temperatures
- wearing shoes that are new or that do not fit well
- anatomical factors, such as toes that cross over one another
Friction blisters often break open on their own over time and may drain fluid. Sometimes the blister reforms after breaking. Breaking or picking at a blister can cause an infection and prolong healing, so people should keep friction blisters covered and avoid breaking them where possible.
Some insect bites cause the skin to blister. These blisters may look and feel similar to friction blisters, but they often itch.
As with friction blisters, it is important not to pick at or break blisters from insect bites.
Partial thickness burns, chemical burns, and ice burns can form blisters. Like the blisters seen in friction blisters, the blister in these thermal injuries can act as a natural barrier, protecting the wound from infections.
Numerous infections can cause blisters on the feet or between the toes, including:
- Hand, foot, and mouth disease. Hand, foot, and mouth disease is a virus that causes painful blisters on the feet, hands, and mouth. It is highly contagious and is most common in young children. In most people, it goes away on its own after several days.
- Bullous impetigo. Impetigo is a bacterial infection of the skin. Sometimes it can present with blistering, known as bullous impetigo.
- Vesicobullous tinea pedis. Tinea pedis, also known as athlete’s foot, is a fungal infection of the foot. Sometimes it can also present with blistering.
- Cellulitis. Cellulitis is an infection of the deep layers of skin. It appears when bacteria enter the skin, often through an injury such as a friction blister. Treatment is with antibiotics.
Blistering skin conditions
Some skin conditions cause painful blisters between the toes. They include:
- Epidermolysis bullosa. Inherited epidermolysis bullosa is a chronic skin condition that usually appears in infancy or childhood. People with this disease blister easily from minor trauma.
- Dyshidrotic eczema. This form of eczema causes blisters on the soles of the feet and between the toes or the palms of the hand and fingers. Doctors do not fully understand what causes eczema, though genetics and environmental factors appear to play a role.
- Allergic contact dermatitis. Allergic reactions may cause blisters throughout the body, or only on the area that came into contact with the allergen. A person might develop allergic blisters on their toes if they are allergic to something on their shoes, or a lotion they have used on their feet. This is known as allergic contact dermatitis.
Treatment for infections and blistering skin conditions varies, depending on the cause of the blisters. A person who has very painful blisters that are not from friction, or friction blisters that have gotten significantly worse, should see a doctor.
It is safe to treat most friction blisters at home. Try the following strategies:
- Cover the blister. An uncovered blister may pop open, causing infections, skin damage, and more blisters.
- Wear comfortable shoes that do not rub the blister or blisters.
- Keep the blister clean. If it opens and drains, wash the area gently with soap and water. Petroleum jelly can help the healing process.
- Do not apply over-the-counter topical antibiotics, since this can sometimes cause allergic contact dermatitis in some individuals.
The American Academy of Dermatology say that people should usually avoid popping blisters at home unless they are large or very painful.
See a doctor if:
- there are signs of infection, such as swelling, redness, a fever, chills, pus drainage, or intense pain
- the blister does not heal on its own within a few weeks
- the blister is so painful that it interferes with daily activity
Blister pads can help reduce the pain and discomfort of blisters and may promote the healing process. People can buy specific blister pads for the toes in drugstores or choose between brands online.
Strategies that minimize friction on the feet and between the toes can prevent most friction blisters. These strategies can help:
- Wear shoes that fit well, and that do not rub the feet.
- Do not walk long distances in new shoes. Sometimes the feet need time to adjust to new shoes and spending too much time in a pair of shoes that have not been “broken in” may cause blisters.
- Change socks if they become damp from sweat or other moisture.
- Wear padding or bandages on areas that are prone to blisters.
- Put petroleum jelly on areas that may blister, especially when wearing new shoes.
- If shoes are uncomfortable or feet hurt, change shoes, or stop the activity. If doing so is not possible, put padding between the toes to prevent blisters.
Friction blisters can be painful or uncomfortable but are mostly harmless. As long as a person keeps the blister clean, the risk of infection or serious injury is low. Other blisters, however, may be a sign of a serious infection, a burn, or a chronic skin disease. It is important to seek treatment for blisters that do not go away or that are very painful.