What May Be Causing Those Itchy Bumps Filled With Clear Liquid

And what to do about them

Blisters—itchy bumps filled with clear liquid—are also called vesicles and they can develop as a feature of many common rashes. Vesicles appear on the surface of your skin when fluid becomes trapped under the epidermis, which is the top layer.

When a rash appears in the same place as multiple blisters, it is known as a vesicular rash. In some cases, the blisters can consolidate into larger single vesicles. When they burst, the fluids will usually crystallize and leave behind a residual crust.


This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

A child with chicken pox.

Joanne Green / Getty Images

Chickenpox is an itchy rash caused by the varicella virus. Since the introduction of the chickenpox vaccine two decades ago, the disease has not been seen as frequently as it used to be.

The classic chickenpox rash looks rather like a dewdrop. A person will typically have 100 to 300 of these located either on the skin or the mucous membranes of the throat, eyes, anus, or genitals. The rash will develop anywhere from 10 to 21 days after exposure to the virus and one to two days after the appearance of the initial symptoms (fever, headache, fatigue, loss of appetite).

Over the course of the next eight to 12 hours, the fluid-filled blisters will get cloudier and burst, leaving a yellowish crust. A new crop of blisters can sometimes develop where old ones have healed and may even leave a permanent scar (known as a pockmark).

The chickenpox virus can easily be spread by coughing, sneezing, or coming into contact with ruptured blisters. Anyone who has been exposed to chickenpox, even if they were immunized, is at risk for developing shingles later in life.


This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.


CMSP / Gettty Images

Shingles (herpes zoster) is a painful rash caused by reactivation of the same virus that causes chickenpox. The initial symptoms may include a burning, itching, or aching sensation on one side of the body. Fatigue is also common.

Because the virus is embedded in nerve cells, the reactivation will develop along a nerve path known as a dermatome. Dermatomes are paired and are responsible for servicing a specific area of skin on one side of the body.

As the blisters begin to rupture along the band of nerves, there will be persistent and often excruciating pain. The blisters will heal within seven to 10 days, but persistent pain (known as postherpetic neuralgia) can last for weeks, months, or even years.

The fluid in the blisters can transmit the virus to others who have not had chickenpox or who have not received the chickenpox or shingles vaccine.

Antiviral medications can significantly reduce the duration or severity of a shingles outbreak.

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 exposure to an oily chemical called urushiol, which is found in certain plants including poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac.

The itchy and blistering rash will develop on areas of the skin exposed to the oils. While the fluid from the blisters cannot spread a rash to other people, contact with the toxic oils on skin or clothing can.

Rhus dermatitis and other forms of allergic contact dermatitis are commonly treated with topical steroids. The rash will heal on its own in around three weeks, usually without scarring. Over-the-counter calamine lotions can help further relieve symptoms.

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, and popping the blister can let bacteria in and lead to a skin infection.

Genital Herpes

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

Genital herpes is most commonly caused by a type of virus known as herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2). Symptoms typically start with a tingling or burning sensation. Shortly after, herpes blisters will start to develop and erupt into painful ulcers. Because the blisters are often hidden in women, genital herpes may sometimes be misdiagnosed as a bladder or yeast infection.

The fluid in herpes vesicles can transmit the virus to others during sex or intimate contact. While antiviral drugs can shorten the duration of an outbreak, there are none that can rid the body of HSV-2.

Cold Sores

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Herpes simplex

Cold sores, also known as fever blisters or oral herpes, are most commonly caused by the herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1). Once a person has been exposed to HSV-1, the virus will remain in the body forever and occasionally reactivate, causing the formation of one or several blistering rashes

The triggers for a cold sore outbreak include chapped lips, stress, fatigue, excessive sun exposure, and fever. A cold sore can be painful and may take anywhere from seven to 14 days to heal.

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

Antiviral medications can help relieve the symptoms and reduce the duration and/or severity of an outbreak. Topical medications are also available.

Dyshidrotic Eczema

Dyshidrotic eczema
Dyshidrotic eczema.

Getty Images / Iuliia Mikhalitskaia

Dyshidrotic eczema, also known as pompholyx, is an itchy rash that primarily develops on the hands and feet. It is not contagious and is often seen in persons with atopic dermatitis. While the cause is unknown, it is believed to be related to impaired immune function.

The vesicular rash has an almost tapioca-pudding-like appearance and can take up to three weeks to heal (often leaving behind red, dry, and cracked scales). Large, painful blisters have been known to develop, making it difficult to walk if they occur on the feet. The rash is most often treated with topical steroids.


Red papules on the skin due to scabies

P. Marazzi / Science Photo Libary / Getty Images

Scabies is a rash caused by a tiny mite that burrows its way beneath the skin. The red, bumpy rash will often develop into tiny, fluid-filled blisters. A scabies rash is most often seen on the wrists, between the fingers, under the arm, and around the waistline.

You can transmit scabies through skin-to-skin contact (although it usually takes more than a quick hug or handshake to do so). Infestations can also occur as a result of contaminated clothing and bedding. Scabies is commonly treated with anti-parasitic lotions that kill both the mite and its eggs. Oral medications are also available.


Impetigo rash beneath a mans lower lip

Science Photo Library / Getty Images

Impetigo is a common bacterial infection affecting the upper layers of the skin, caused either by Streptococcus or Staphylococcus bacterium. The most common type occurs on the face or limbs and is characterized by sores that quickly develop into vesicles. As the blisters burst, they leave behind a tell-tale honey-colored crust.

There is a less common form of impetigo that causes large blisters, known as bullae, primarily in newborns and younger children. Treatment of impetigo typically involves the use of broad-spectrum antibiotics.

Impetigo can also be caused by MRSA, a strain of Staphylococcus that is resistant to standard antibiotics and may require a more aggressive, multi-drug approach.

Interface Dermatitis (Id) Reaction

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Dermatitis Rash

HKPNC / Getty Images

An interface dermatitis (Id) reaction is an itchy rash with small, fluid-filled blisters that develop in response to a primary infection, usually fungal. It most often occurs on the sides of fingers but can also be found on the chest or arms.

Athlete's foot, ringworm, or jock itch are just some of the infections associated with an Id reaction. Treatment of the underlying infection will usually resolve the rash.

Home Remedies for Itching

While the underlying condition is being treated, you may be left to deal with an aggravating itch. You have a lot of options for managing that yourself, though.

Common home remedies for itch include:

  • Applying moisturizer (make sure it's free of fragrances and additives)
  • Using a topical anesthetic containing pramoxine
  • Using topical treatments containing menthol or calamine
  • Applying aloe vera gel or coconut oil
  • Applying cold compresses or ice packs for about 5-10 minutes at a time
  • Taking a soothing oatmeal bath

Frequently Asked Questions

What are little bumps filled with clear liquid called? 

Little bumps filled with clear liquid are known as blisters or vesicles. Vesicles can be as small as the tip of a pin or up to 5 millimeters wide. Multiple vesicles in one area of the skin are known as 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 medication, food, or something you touched
  • an autoimmune disorder
  • a bacterial, fungal, or viral infection
  • a burn
  • contact with a chemical irritant 
  • eczema 
  • friction

What are these small, itchy blisters on my fingers? 

Small, itchy blisters on the fingers, hands, and feet are often due to dyshidrotic dermatitis, a skin condition closely related to eczema. Dyshidrotic dermatitis typically begins suddenly as a cluster of vesticles that resemble tapioca. 

Contact dermatitis can also cause small itchy blisters on your fingers or any part of your body. Blisters from contact dermatitis can be in clusters or individual blisters. They are often extremely itchy and break open easily.

Can I pop dyshidrotic eczema blisters? 

Dyshidrotic eczema, also known as pompholyx eczema or dermatitis, is characterized by tiny blisters that are very itchy. These blisters frequently pop on their own. Intentionally popping dyshidrotic eczema blisters is not recommend. However, larger blisters can be drained by a doctor using a sterile syringe.

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Article Sources
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