What May Be Causing Those Itchy Bumps Filled With Clear Liquid

And what to do about them

Itchy bumps filled with clear liquid are called blisters or vesicles. They're a feature of many common rashes.

Vesicles form when fluid is trapped under the epidermis (top layer of skin). A rash with multiple blisters is called a vesicular rash.

Sometimes, blisters merge into a larger single vesicle. When they burst, the fluid may crystallize and leave behind a crust.

This article looks at nine common causes of blisters and what to do about them.

To Pop or Not to Pop?

As tempting as it may be, you shouldn't pop a blister. Its purpose is to protect the skin underneath as it heals. Popping it can let in bacteria and lead to an infection.

Chickenpox

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A child with chicken pox.

Joanne Green / Getty Images

Chickenpox is an itchy rash. It's caused by the varicella virus. The chickenpox vaccine has made it far less common than it used to be.

The classic chickenpox blister looks like a dewdrop. You can have between 100 and 300 of them. They develop all over the body, but particularly the trunk, face, and scalp. They can also appear on the mucous membranes of the throat, eyes, anus, and genitals.

The rash comes on between 10 and 21 days after you're exposed to the virus. Other symptoms usually start a day or two earlier. They include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite

Over the next eight to 12 hours, the fluid-filled blisters get cloudier and burst. That leaves a yellowish crust.

New blisters can form where old ones have healed. They may leave a permanent scar (pockmark).

The chickenpox virus spreads easily through coughs, sneezes, or contact with ruptured blisters. Anyone exposed is at risk for shingles later on. That's true even if you're immunized.

Shingles

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shingles

CMSP / Gettty Images

Shingles (herpes zoster) is a painful rash. It's caused by a reactivation of the chickenpox virus. Early symptoms are fatigue and burning, itching, or aching of the skin.

The virus embeds itself in nerve cells. The rash then develops along the path of the nerve (a dermatome). Each dermatome provides nerve function to a specific area of skin on one side of your body. So the shingles rash usually appears as a stripe or band across the skin.

Blisters cause persistent and often severe pain when they rupture. They'll heal in seven to 10 days. But persistent pain called postherpetic neuralgia can last for weeks, months, or even years.

The vesicle fluid can transmit the virus to others who haven't had:

The person would develop chickenpox, however, rather than shingles.

Treating Shingles

Antiviral medications can make shingles milder and clear up more quickly.

Rhus Dermatitis (Poison Ivy)

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Poison ivy rash on arm
Poison ivy rash on arm. JodiJacobson / Getty Images

Rhus dermatitis is caused by contact with an oily chemical called urushiol. It's found in some plants including:

If you're sensitive to urushiol (and most people are), the itchy, blistering rash develops anywhere the oils touch your skin. Fluid from the blisters can't spread the rash to other people. But contact with the oils on your skin or clothing can.

Rhus dermatitis is a form of allergic contact dermatitis. It's treated with topical steroids. Over-the-counter (OTC) calamine lotion can help relieve symptoms.

The rash heals on its own in about three weeks. It rarely scars.

Recap

Many things can cause blisters filled with clear liquid. Chickenpox is caused by the varicella virus. It spreads easily.

Shingles are a reactivation of the same virus. The blisters are extremely painful when they rupture.

Rhus dermatitis is caused by an oil in poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac. It often clears on its own but you may be given topical steroids.

Genital Herpes

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Herpes simplex
Herpes simplex on penis. DermNet / CC BY-NC-ND

Genital herpes is most often caused by the herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2). Symptoms typically start with tingling or burning. Then, herpes blisters develop and erupt into painful ulcers. 

Blisters can be hidden in the vagina. So genital herpes can be misdiagnosed as a bladder or yeast infection.

The fluid in herpes vesicles can transmit the virus. This happens during sex or other intimate contact.

Antiviral drugs can shorten an outbreak. But nothing can get HSV-2 out of your body completely.

Cold Sores

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Herpes simplex
CDC

Cold sores are also known as fever blisters or oral herpes. They're usually caused by the herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1).

Once you've been exposed to HSV-1, the virus stays in your body forever. It reactivates now and then and causes blisters.

The triggers for a cold sore outbreak include:

  • Chapped lips
  • Stress
  • Fatigue
  • Excessive sun exposure
  • Fever

A cold sore can be painful. It may take up to two weeks to heal.

Antiviral medications can relieve symptoms and shorten outbreaks. Topical medications are also available.

The fluid in herpes blisters can pass the virus to others through kissing, oral sex, or sharing cups, utensils, or personal care items.

Dyshidrotic Eczema

Dyshidrotic eczema
Dyshidrotic eczema.

Getty Images / Iuliia Mikhalitskaia

Dyshidrotic eczema, or pompholyx, is an itchy rash. It mainly develops on the hands and feet. It isn't contagious.

You may be more likely to get it if you have atopic dermatitis. The cause is unknown. But it's believed to be related to abnormal immune function.

The vesicular rash looks almost like tapioca pudding. It can take up to three weeks to heal. It may leave behind red, dry, and cracked scales.

Large, painful blisters can develop. If they're on your feet, it may be hard to walk. The rash is most often treated with topical steroids.

Recap

Genital herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus 2. Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus 1. This virus stays in your system and occasionally reactivates and causes sores.

Dyshidrotic eczema is an itchy rash on the hands and feet. It's treated with topical steroids.

Scabies

Red papules on the skin due to scabies

P. Marazzi / Science Photo Libary / Getty Images

Scabies is a rash caused by tiny mites that burrow into your skin. The red, bumpy rash often has tiny, fluid-filled blisters.

A scabies rash is most often seen on:

  • Wrists
  • Between the fingers
  • Under the arm
  • Around the waistline

You can transmit scabies through skin-to-skin contact. It usually takes more than a quick hug or handshake, though. You can catch it from contaminated clothing and bedding.

Scabies is commonly treated with anti-parasitic lotions. They kill both the mite and its eggs. Oral medications are also available.

Impetigo

Impetigo rash beneath a mans lower lip

Science Photo Library / Getty Images

Impetigo is an infection that affects the upper layers of the skin. It can be caused by Streptococcus or Staphylococcus bacteria.

It commonly occurs on the face or limbs. Sores quickly develop into vesicles. Burst blisters leave behind a honey-colored crust.

A less common form of impetigo causes large blisters known as bullae. Newborns and younger children get them most often.

Impetigo treatment usually involves broad-spectrum antibiotics.

Impetigo can be caused by MRSA. That's a drug-resistant strain of Staphylococcus. It may require a more aggressive approach using multiple antibiotics.

Interface Dermatitis (ID) Reaction

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Dermatitis Rash

HKPNC / Getty Images

An interface dermatitis (ID) reaction is an itchy rash with small blisters. It's most often on the sides of fingers. But it can also be on the chest or arms.

ID develops in response to an infection. Usually, it's a fungal infection. Infections linked to ID reaction include:

Treating the infection should clear up the rash.

ID reactions are named for the area of the skin where they strike: the interface between the epidermis (outer layer) and the dermis (middle layer).

Recap

A scabies rash comes from mites burrowing in your skin. It's treated with anti-parasitic lotions. Impetigo is caused by Streptococcus or Staphylococcus bacteria. Antibiotics may clear it up. Interface dermatitis is usually due to fungal infection. The rash goes away when the infection is treated.

Home Remedies for Itching

Different causes of blisters need different treatments. Meanwhile, you may have an annoying itch to deal with. Common home remedies include:

  • A fragrance-free, additive-free moisturizer
  • A topical anesthetic that contains pramoxine
  • Topical treatments that contain menthol or calamine
  • Aloe vera gel
  • Coconut oil
  • Cold compresses or ice packs (use for 5-10 minutes at a time)
  • Oatmeal baths

If your itch is severe or doesn't respond to these remedies, talk to a healthcare provider.

Summary

Fluid-filled blisters can come from many causes.

Chickenpox, shingles, genital herpes, and cold sores are caused by viruses. Rhus dermatitis comes from an oil in plants like poison ivy.

Dyshidrotic eczema likely comes from impaired immune function. Scabies is caused by burrowing mites.

Impetigo is caused by bacteria. Interface dermatitis often comes from fungal infections.

There are home remedies that can help relieve the itch while the underlying cause is treated.

A Word From Verywell

If you have blisters, don't assume they're harmless and will go away on their own. They might, but they might require treatment.

See a healthcare provider so you know for sure what's causing the vesicles. Then you can choose the right treatments to clear up your skin.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are little bumps filled with clear liquid called?

    Little bumps filled with clear liquid are blisters, also called vesicles. They can be pin-point small or as big as a pencil eraser. When you have a lot, it's called a vesicular rash.

  • What causes itchy, watery bumps on the skin?

    Itchy watery bumps on the skin can be caused by: 

    • An allergic reaction to drugs, food, or a skin irritant
    • An autoimmune disorder
    • A bacterial, fungal, or viral infection
    • A burn
    • Contact with a chemical irritant 
    • Eczema 
    • Friction ("rug burn")


  • What are these small, itchy blisters on my fingers?

    Small, itchy blisters on the fingers, hands, and feet are often due to dyshidrotic dermatitis. It can start suddenly with clusters of tapioca-like vesicles.

    It may also be contact dermatitis. These blisters can be alone or in clusters. They're often extremely itchy. They break open easily.

  • Can I pop dyshidrotic eczema blisters?

    Dyshidrotic eczema causes tiny, very itchy blisters. They often pop on their own. It's best not to pop them yourself. A healthcare provider can drain larger ones.

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15 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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