Blisters on Toes: Causes and What to Do About Them

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Toe blisters are fluid-filled sacs that develop between the layers of skin on the toes. They are typically caused by friction, which can occur when your toe rubs against a sock or shoe for an extended period of time. However, toe blisters can also be caused by other irritants like sun exposure, excessive moisture, or bug bites, to name a few.

Toe blisters tend to heal on their own within one to two weeks, but some blisters may require more extensive treatment. Read on to find out more about the types of toe blisters, what causes them, and how they are treated.

big callus on toe

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Types of Blisters on Toes

There are several types of blisters that can occur on the toes.

Clear Blisters

Clear blisters on toes look like bubbles on the skin. The fluid that fills the bubbles is known as serum. It's the clear and watery part of the blood.

Blood Blisters

Blood blisters on the toes occur when a blister forms and blood vessels underneath become damaged, leading to blood leaking into the blister. These blisters appear either dark red or purple in color.

Infected Blisters

Any blister can become infected and may require medical treatment to heal. Look for signs of infection, which include redness, heat, swelling, and pain around the blister, as well as an unpleasant smell and pus filling up the blister.

If you think you have an infected toe blister, you should call your healthcare provider. You may need antibiotics to clear up the infection.

Causes of Blisters on Toes

There are various causes of blisters—some are harmless and require no medical attention, while others can be more serious and may require a visit to your healthcare provider for proper treatment.

Friction

Friction blisters are the most common type of blister on the toes. They can develop when a person is on their feet for a long period of time and their toes continuously rub against their shoes or socks. These blisters can cause some pain and inflammation but are typically not a cause for concern.

Excessive Cold

If your toes are exposed to extreme cold for a long period, blisters may appear. Typically, the toes become frostbitten before blisters develop, and the blisters that do form will be filled with a clear or milky liquid. Since frostbite is technically a type of burn, you should seek immediate medical attention to prevent the death of skin cells or tissues on the foot.

Insect Bites

Insect bites are incredibly common and can lead to blisters on the toes. While not everyone will develop blisters after getting bitten by an insect, some will. It depends on how your body reacts to the bug bite.

Burns

The type of burn that is typically associated with the development of blisters is a second-degree burn. With second-degree burns, the outer and underlying layer of skin are both affected, and the area can be red, swollen, and painful. Causes of second-degree burns that can affect the toes include:

Severe Sunburn and Blisters

In some cases, exposure to too much sun can lead to blisters developing on the toes. A severe sunburn can cause blisters to appear on the toes within a day of receiving the burn. Sunburn blisters are typically white and filled with fluid. They also present with red and swollen skin.

Infections

Various types of infection can cause blisters on the toes, including:

  • Bullous impetigo: Bullous impetigo is a type of bacterial skin infection that causes large, fluid-filled blisters to develop in folded areas of the skin, such as between the toes.
  • Cellulitis: Cellulitis is another type of bacterial infection that can lead to blistering on the toes. Anyone can get the infection, although having breaks in the skin caused by injuries or chronic skin conditions increase the risk of contracting the bacterial infection.
  • Hand, foot, and mouth disease: Hand, foot, and mouth disease is a viral infection. It typically presents with fever and painful blisters on the extremities.
  • Vesiculobullous: Vesiculobullous is a group of diseases. There are different types that can lead to blisters on the toes. One of the most common types that affects the feet is known as vesiculobullous tinea pedis, which is a type of athlete’s foot caused by a fungus. The blisters that form are small and filled with clear fluid. The small blisters eventually join to form one larger blister.

Skin conditions

Certain skin conditions can also be a cause of blisters on your toes. These conditions include:

  • Allergic contact dermatitis: This skin condition occurs when there is a reaction to a substance that touches the skin. If severe enough, blisters can form that ooze fluid. Once that occurs, the blisters will typically scab over.
  • Dyshidrotic eczema: Dyshidrotic eczema is a skin condition that is characterized as small blisters on the hands, soles of the feet, and toes. The blisters are incredibly itchy, and when scratched, will develop into a larger, red rash.
  • Epidermolysis bullosa: This rare disease causes the skin to become fragile and blister. Minor injuries such as rubbing or scratching can cause painful blisters to occur. The areas most affected are the hands and feet, including the toes.

Chemical Exposure

In some cases, chemicals known as blistering agents or vesicants can lead to skin blisters on the toes if you are exposed to them. One of the most common chemicals that can cause blistering is sulfur mustard. Other types of chemicals that can lead to blisters on the toes include:

  • Lewisite
  • Nitrogen mustard
  • Phosgene oxime

Other chemicals found in cosmetics, detergents, and solvents can lead to blistering if exposure to them causes a person to develop allergic contact dermatitis.

Treatments for Toe Blisters

The treatments for toe blisters range significantly depending on the cause. In some cases, treatment may not be required at all. This is especially true if they are caused by friction, as these types of blisters will clear up on their own within two weeks.

How to Treat Blisters on and Between the Toes 

Some treatment options for friction-driven blisters on the toes are:

  • Covering the blister with a bandage and changing it daily
  • Resting the affected foot
  • Keeping an eye on the healing and watching for infection

When to See a Doctor

If the blister doesn’t heal on its own, becomes infected, or keeps recurring, you should make an appointment with a podiatrist, which is a foot specialist.

Blisters that don’t heal could be a sign of a more serious issue. For example, if your blisters recur, you could have a skin condition or infection that is causing the blisters to develop frequently.  

If you are aware of the cause of the blister when it is the result of chemical exposure, a burn, or frostbite, you should seek immediate medical care to assess the damage and get proper treatment.

Should You Pop a Blister on the Toe?

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, you should avoid popping any blister as this increases the risk of infection. This may also prolong healing and require medical treatment if an infection occurs.

If a blister bursts on its own, it’s important to clean the area because bacteria can get in and cause infection. You can do this using warm water and soap. Once the area is clean, you can smooth down the top layer of skin, apply an antibiotic ointment, and cover it with a bandage.

Should You Remove Blistered Skin?

You should never remove the skin of the blister after it has been drained or popped. The skin underneath the area will be raw. Blisters that have popped are considered open wounds, but the top layer of skin acts as a protectant and should not be removed.

Preventing Blisters on Toes

Preventing blisters is the best way to avoid them if they are caused by friction. You can do this by:

  • Wear moisture-wicking socks, which can reduce friction.
  • Wear two pairs of socks to protect your skin.
  • Make sure your shoes fit properly and avoid wearing footwear that is either too loose or too tight.
  • If you experience blisters on the toes often, you can preemptively apply bandages to help prevent new blisters from forming.
  • Use petroleum jelly to reduce friction against your shoes or socks.

Summary

Blisters are fluid-filled sacs that can develop for a variety of reasons. While the most common cause of toe blisters is friction, there are other causes, such as infections, chemical exposure, burns, and skin conditions.

Toe blisters should be treated with care while they heal to prevent infection. If you have recurring toe blisters or an infection occurs, you will need to see your healthcare provider to help confirm a diagnosis and get proper treatment. 

A Word From Verywell 

Blisters on the toes can be painful and irritating. Friction-caused blisters are nothing to worry about and will typically heal on their own quickly, so it’s likely that your toe blisters will not require any medical attention.

That being said, any signs of infection or recurring blisters could be a sign treatment is needed. Pay attention to your symptoms, the healing process, and how often you get toe blisters to gauge whether you need to see a doctor.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is it better to pop a blister or leave it?

    Blisters are better left alone. This is because popping a blister can lead to infection. In some cases, they need to be drained, however, that should only be done to ease any discomfort you’re feeling.

  • What does a blister on your toe mean?

    Toe blisters can mean a variety of things. However, they are most likely caused by friction, which can mean that your feet are holding too much moisture or your shoes are either too big or too small.

  • How long does a toe blister last?

    Toe blisters caused by friction typically last roughly one to two weeks. Other types of blisters may last longer or shorter depending on the cause and the treatment required.

  • What does COVID toes look like?

    COVID toes are a symptom of a COVID-19 infection and typically involve one or more toes swelling and turning red, purple, or pink in color. The rash-like condition can also lead to the appearance of brownish-purple spots on the affected toe(s).

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11 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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