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Skin Problems & Treatments Health Center

Blisters - Topic Overview

Blisters are fluid-filled bumps that look like bubbles on the skin. You may develop a blister on your footcamera.gif when you wear new shoes that rub against your skin or on your hand when you work in the garden without wearing gloves. Home treatment is often all that is needed for this type of blister.

Other types of injuries to the skin that may cause a blister include:

  • Burns from exposure to heat, electricity, chemicals, radiation from the sun, or friction.
  • Cold injuries from being exposed to cold or freezing temperatures.
  • Some spider bites, such as a bite from a brown recluse spidercamera.gif. Symptoms of a brown recluse spider bite include reddened skin followed by a blister that forms at the bite site, pain and itching, and an open sore with a breakdown of tissue (necrosis) that develops within a few hours to 3 to 4 days following the bite. This sore may take months to heal.
  • Pinching the skin forcefully, like when a finger gets caught in a drawer. A blood blister may form if tiny blood vessels are damaged.

Infection can cause either a single blister or clusters of blisters.

  • Chickenpox camera.gif (varicella) is a common contagious illness that is caused by a type of herpes virus. Chickenpox blisters begin as red bumps that turn into blisters and then scab over. It is most contagious from 2 to 3 days before a rash develops until all the blisters have crusted over.
  • Shingles camera.gif , often seen in older adults, is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. Shingles blisters look like chickenpox, but they usually develop in a band on one side of the body.
  • Hand-foot-and-mouth disease, another type of viral infection, most often occurs in young children. Symptoms include a rash of small sores or blisters that usually appear on the hands and feet and in the mouth.
  • Cold sores camera.gif , sometimes called fever blisters, are clusters of small blisters on the lip and outer edge of the mouth. They are caused by the herpes simplex virus. Cold sore-type blisters that develop in the genital area may be caused by a genital herpes infection.
  • Impetigo camera.gif is a bacterial skin infection. Its blisters, which often occur on the face, burst and become crusty (honey-colored crusts).
  • Infected hair follicles (folliculitiscamera.gif) cause red, tender areas that turn into blisters at or near the base of strands of hair.
  • A scabiescamera.gif infection, which occurs when mites burrow into the skin, may cause tiny, itchy blisters that often occur in a thin line or curved track.
  • Bedbugs camera.gif can cause tiny, itchy blisters anywhere on the body.

Inflammation may cause skin blisters.

Occasionally a prescription or nonprescription medicine or ointment can cause blisters. The blisters may be small or large and usually occur with reddened, itchy skin. If the blisters are not severe and you do not have other symptoms, stopping the use of the medicine or ointment may be all that is needed. Blisters may also occur as a symptom of a toxic reaction to a medicine. This reaction is called Stevens-Johnson syndrome. Blisters that occur with other signs of illness, such as a fever or chills, may mean a more serious problem.

Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: December 10, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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