Death By Blister: Do Not Pop Them, Say Podiatrists!
Posted by Jenn F. on Monday, September 28th, 2015
Blisters are no joke, warn NYC podiatrists who point to several recent headlines as evidence. “Many patients see calluses, corns, and blisters as these benign, minor foot wounds,” explains Dr. Josef J. Geldwert from The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine. “Yet, it’s important to remember that any break in the skin opens a portal to infection in the body. Contact with the wrong type of microbe could be deadly.” He adds that “bathroom surgery” with tweezers or needles especially increases the risk of infection and should be avoided at all costs.
Macenzie Campbell, a 12-year-old from England, nearly died when a blister on his foot became infected, sending him into toxic shock after reportedly “wearing shoes without socks.” The young boy’s mother applied a topical treatment when she noticed a wart-like lesion on the child’s foot, but took him to the hospital the next day after he caught a fever, the foot swelled, and a red rash spread over his body. The situation rapidly escalated and the family was told to say their last goodbyes as the rash turned black and organs began to fail.
“It had seemed like a normal blister, but I gradually started to feel worse and worse,” the boy recalled. “I felt sick, everything was blurry and my heart was racing. I didn’t know what was going on.”
Miraculously, the boy recovered. As The Daily Mail points out, unbroken skin over a blister provides a natural barrier to infection and should not be punctured or peeled off in any way.1http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2728780/Schoolboy-12-six-hours-death-blister-feet-infected-sends-toxic-shock-wearing-shoes-no-socks.html#ixzz3jpY4qqNJ The fluid will naturally drain on its own as healing progresses. Small blisters should be covered with a plaster and large blisters with a gauze pad.
Miracles are not always possible, as was the case for 60-year-old Peter Catteral from Greater Manchester, who passed away in 2007.2http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-473752/Grandfather-killed-blister-toe-new-shoes.html#ixzz3jpYK7Vuw Tight new shoes were the start of the retired electrician’s troubles. Though he was given dressings by a nurse, the blister he received from the shoes subsequently led to blood poisoning, massive organ failure, and two heart attacks within a month.
“You would expect an apparently trivial wound to lead to a simple infection,” said Aruni Sen, treasurer of the British Association for Emergency Medicine, “but on occasions it could result in one that is virulent and aggressive.” He stressed the importance of going back in to see the doctor if the wound continues to weep and hurt after a week of treatment.
Blisters are indiscriminate, and even the affluent and famous can fall prey to a foot infection. President Calvin Coolidge’s 16-year-old son, Calvin Jr., was said to have fallen ill with fever and infection after getting a blister on the third toe of his right foot.3https://coolidgefoundation.org/blog/the-medical-context-of-calvin-jr-s-untimely-death/ He passed away within a week of Staphylococcus aureaus, a common but potentially deadly bacterium. On the surface of the skin, staph can cause minor irritations and infections requiring treatment with topical medication. However, once in the bloodstream, staph can quickly lead to widespread inflammation known as “sepsis,” as well as organ failure.4http://www.healthline.com/health/sepsis#Overview1 Death from sepsis was a common occurrence in Coolidge’s time that unfortunately persists in the modern day when patients tamper with their injuries or fail to see a doctor at the first sign of trouble.
Blister First Aid
To treat a blister, soak the feet in Epsom salts or wash gently with soap and water. Gently rub isoprophyl alcohol on the injury and allow it to dry out. If the blister pops on its own, wash with mild soap and water and apply a topical antibiotic (such as Neosporin) and a bandage.
Blisters are one of the most common sports injuries and the vast majority heal easily on their own. Even so, to prevent blisters, keep the feet dry by wearing high performance moisture-wicking socks, allow adequate time for the shoes to dry out in between runs, keep the feet slick with anti-chafe balm, and choose shoes that fit well to reduce friction. Consider applying moleskin or other padding to “hot spots” to reduce friction if necessary.
When choosing socks, keep in mind that cotton holds 10 times the moisture of synthetics like Coolmax and loses its ability to absorb shock when wet. Wool will swell up to 45% as well, but it does allow moisture to escape. Acrylic only swells 5% and dries more easily than wool or cotton. When hiking or going on a long walk, always bring an extra pair of socks to avoid walking around with soggy feet.
When to See a Doctor
Contact a podiatrist from The Center For Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine in NYC immediately if you notice:
- Redness or streaks around the edge of the blister
- Pus within the blister
- Increasing pain
- Heat at the injury site
- Fever and hot flashes
For more on blisters, check out our post on eight blister do’s and
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If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine. Dr. Josef J. Geldwert, Dr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.