Toe blisters are one of the most annoying skin conditions that may hamper daily routine. Getting blisters between toes can cause difficulty in walking and completing errands. Usually, they are a result of friction (1) that occurs when the toe rubs against shock or shoe; however, there are many other reasons as well.
Let’s understand the science behind toe blisters, their types, causes, and ways to prevent them.
What Are Toe Blisters?
Blisters are fluid-filled sacs that develop on the skin between the toes. While they may appear between any toe, blisters are usually found between the big toe and the second toe. When we wear socks and shoes for longer hours, the skin between the toes rubs against them constantly, creating friction on the skin. As a result of it, fluid builds up, creating fluid-filled sacs.
Besides friction, various other factors may lead to blister formation, such as excessive use of certain skincare products, exposure to the sun for extended periods of time, excessive moisture between the toes, insect bites (2), and a lot more.
Even though the majority of the time, the toe blisters resolve on their own, in a few cases, they seek medical attention. In such circumstances, extensive treatment is needed to cure them and heal the skin.
Types of Blisters on Toes
Different types of toe blisters can appear on the skin, depending upon the causal factor. These are-
- Blood blisters– When a blister is formed as a result of friction and the blood vessels underneath the skin are damaged, it leads to the formation of blood blisters. Usually, they appear reddish-purple in color. In such blisters, blood leaks from the sac.
- Clear blisters– If a bubble-like sac appears on the skin between the toes that looks clear or a little translucent, it indicates the formation of clear blisters. The fluid in these blisters is called serum and is usually the watery part of the blood.
- Infected Blisters– Most of the time, blisters resolve on their own. However, in some cases, they get infected and show symptoms like redness, swelling, pain, and extreme discomfort. Such blisters also smell awful as pus fills up in the sac, making the condition worse. Such blisters need medical attention, and the treatment involves the use of antibiotics to stop the infection from spreading further.
- Burn blisters– Blisters arising as a result of exposure to extreme heat or hot surfaces result in burn blisters.
Causes of Blisters Between Toes
Blisters may occur due to various reasons, among which friction is the most common. Besides, wearing ill-fitted shoes, allergies, burns, and chemical exposure are other reasons for different types of blisters between the big and second toe.
When a person stays on their feet for an extended period, and the toes rub against their shoes or socks constantly, the friction leads to the development of fluid-filled sacs called blisters. Initially, these blisters may cause a little pain and discomfort, but gradually, the inflammation subsides, and the skin turns back to normal.
Often, people who are into mountaineering and hiking develop blisters between the big toe and the second toe as a result of excessive cold for a long period. Before the blisters develop, the toes become frostbitten. Such blisters are often filled with clear, watery liquid and, even though they look normal, require immediate medical attention as they can make the skin cells or tissues dead on the toe.
Blisters due to insect bites are another common cause of their development on the toes. While some bug bites do not lead to blister formation, others may, depending on how the body responds to it. These blisters are usually not a matter of concern, only if the insect is not dangerous.
When a person experiences second-degree burns, blisters form on the skin. It is because the epidermis (outer skin) and hypodermis (inner skin) get damaged, making the area swollen and red. Blisters developed due to burns are very painful. Exposure to certain acidic chemicals that generate heat, fire, steam, and electric shocks is the common cause of blisters due to burns.
Different types of infections can lead to blister formation on the toes. These are:
A- Bacterial Infection
- Bullous impetigo
B- Viral Infection
- Hand, foot and mouth disease
C- Fungal Infection
- Vesiculobullous tinea pedis
Certain skin conditions also lead to blisters on the toes, such as:
- Allergic contact dermatitis
- Dyshidrotic eczema
- Epidermolysis bullosa
Exposure to certain chemicals triggers blister formation (3). These chemicals are:
- Sulfur mustard
- Nitrogen mustard
- Phosgene oxime
People with sensitive skin can develop blisters between the big toe and the second toe when exposed to cosmetics, detergents, and solvents. This is the reason why such people are advised to perform a patch test before using any new skincare product.
Treatment For Blister Between Toes
Usually, the line of treatment is based on the causal factor (4). Most of the blisters do not require any medical attention, while others need a dose of antibiotics for cure.
Below are a few effective treatment options that develop due to friction:
- Cover the blister with a bandage
- Change the bandage daily
- Let the affected footrest
- Check if the blister is healing or getting infected
How To Prevent Blister Between Toes
Some people are more prone to getting blisters due to their sensitive skin. Such people should always take preventive measures to keep them at bay. These are:
- Using socks that are moisture-wicking to reduce friction.
- Wearing two pairs of socks for skin protection.
- Wearing shoes of perfect fitting.
- Applying petroleum jelly to reduce friction against shoes and socks.
Popping a Blister- Is it a Good Idea?
No, it is always advised never to pop a blister as it increases the risk of infection. Any skin condition requires time to heal, and so do the blisters. Popping, touching, or pricking them will make the condition worse, and an infection may occur.
Allow the blister to pop on its own, and once it bursts, clean the area with saline water. Warm water and soap can also be used to prevent bacterial infestation in the area. Later, clean it with a dry cloth or tissue paper, apply a layer of antibacterial ointment, and cover with a bandage.
Blisters between the big toe and the second toe are usually not a matter of concern; however, keeping the area clean and disinfected is essential to prevent further infection. If the skin is sensitive and often develops blisters between the toes, it is essential to take preventive measures.
While most of the blisters on the toes resolve, if things get worse, seek medical help and take the right treatment to prevent things from getting worse.
- Friction Blisters of the Feet: A Critical Assessment of Current Prevention Strategies – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/36701678/
- Insect Bites – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2577631/
- Pool Toes: Case Report and Review of Pool-Associated Pedal Dermatoses- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7773311/
- Treatment of Friction Blisters – https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamadermatology/article-abstract/530644