footBlisters can be a real nuisance especially when hiking. Even the tiniest blister can make your hiking experience painful, forcing you to leave the trail and limp away. Blisters can be prevented by wearing the correct hiking socks and hiking boots. Learning the causes of blisters and how to prevent and treat them ensures that blisters do not get in the way of your hiking experience.

Causes of Foot Blisters

  • Moisture: feet that are wet from sweat or moisture are more prone to blisters. This is because moisture makes the skin soft.
  • Heat: the main cause of blisters is heat. Heat is created as a result of friction between the skin and your hiking boots. Gravel and sand may also find their way into your boots causing more friction, which forms blisters.

Treating Foot Blisters
Since heat and moisture are the main causes of blisters, keeping feet dry, cool and free from gravel are some of the preventive measures. Other possible treatment options include:

Good Fitting Boots
Proper hiking boots have a good fit and do not have pressure points.

  • Good hiking boots are water tight but leave just enough space for your feet to breathe.
  • Some are fitted with gusseted tongs which keep away particles of sand from getting into your boots.
  • Some people use hiking boot inserts. These are placed at the bottom to take up the dead space. The inserts cover the hot spots which can cause blisters.

Rest Your Feet
As the hiking intensifies, your feet may get overheated and moist. One option is to take some rest and air your feet. Another suggestion is to make adjustments on your hiking rhythm. Having an extra pair of socks to change will keep your feet dry.

Hiking and Liner Socks
Good quality hiking socks are dry, clean and soft. Sometimes the seams in the socks may rub on the feet causing blisters.

  • Hikers also wear liner socks which can be replaced when you feel your feet are wet.  Cotton socks tend to retain and soak up moisture and for this reason they would not be ideal for hiking.
  • If your feet are hot, it might be wise to cool them off in a pool or stream. Dry them properly so that moisture is not trapped in.
  • When hiking on a flat terrain, some people prefer to take off their socks and boots and instead hike with their sandals.

Home Remedies for Blisters
Most blisters will heal without the need for medication or treatments. However, there are several home treatment options to prevent infection and decrease pain.

  • Apply a loose bandage on the blister and avoid tedious activity until it heals.
  • Some people use a moleskin pad if the blister is underneath the foot.
  • It’s best not to drain a blister at home, but if the blister is causing you pain and it is very large, it is suggested that you drain it.  To do this, take a pin or needle and rub it in alcohol. Gently prick the edge and press the fluid out.

It is suggested to not drain the blister if:

  • You suspect the cause of the blister is a contagious disease like chickenpox. Draining the fluid can cause the virus to spread.
  • You have cancer, heart disease, diabetes or HIV, because there is a high risk of infection.

Medications for Treating Blisters
Some hikers use an antibiotic ointment. However, if you notice an itch or rash, then the ointment could be causing a skin reaction. You may also try non-prescription medicine to treat the fever and pain caused by blisters, such as:

  • Nonsteroidal which is an anti-inflammatory drug
  • Acetaminophen
  • Naproxen such as Naprosyn or Aleve
  • Ibuprofen such as Motrin or Advil
  • Aspirin such as Bufferin or Bayer

If you are pregnant or have allergic reactions, it is best to consult your doctor first as the doctor will be able to prescribe the right medicine and dosage depending on your medical condition. Hiking should be fun and preventing and treating blisters ensures that you have an enjoyable time.

For more information, visit Careworks.

Author: Michele Holincheck, FNP