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How Do I Treat a Toenail Blister?

By Erin J. Hill
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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In most cases, the best way to treat a toenail blister is to leave the impacted area alone so that it can heal itself. Doctors and other medical experts often call this a “wait and see” approach since what you’re basically doing is waiting to see if the condition will go away on its own. Depending on the size of the blister you may want to protect the affected toe with a bandage or other cushioning, and it’s also a good idea to stay off your feet as much as you can. If the blister is particularly large or is impacting the way you walk, you can consider draining it with a needle. Most experts don’t recommend this because of the possibility of infection; unless you know exactly what you’re doing, your attempts might actually make the situation worse. If the blister is really bothering you the best thing to do is to get professional medical help.

Why Blisters Happen

Blisters can form anywhere on the body when consistent friction irritates an area of skin. In most cases they’re one of the body’s ways to protect and cushion the skin from further harm, though the result can hurt and the area is usually very sensitive. A blister may appear as a large bulge on the surface of the skin, and it may be filled with a clear or light-colored fluid. This fluid will generally be watery in nature.

It isn’t all that common for blisters to form under the toenails, since in most cases the nails themselves should serve as protection for the sensitive skin beneath. They most frequently occur in response to poorly fitting footwear, namely shoes that are too tight. Sometimes injuries, like dropping something heavy on your foot, can also be a cause, particularly in the trauma caused a shift in the nail bed that later led to friction as you moved around.

Take a “Wait and See” Approach

Nearly all small toenail blisters will go away on their own. It can be alarming to first notice the swelling beneath your nail, but most of the time the condition looks a lot worse than it is. Just as with other blisters elsewhere, the best thing to do is usually to wait.

Protect the Site

Keeping the impacted area protected and clean is often a good idea and can promote faster healing. Wear loose-fitting shoes if you can to avoid adding undue friction. You might also want to place tape or a cushioned bandage over the affected toe to keep it protected and in place. It’s often a good idea to avoid exercises like walking, running, or jogging for a day or so until the blister has time to heal. Once this occurs, continue with your normal activities, but wear protective shoes and keep a bandage on the area to prevent future blisters until your toe is no longer red or sore.

Consider Draining the Blister

Some people want to drain the blisters that appear on their toenails, and this option is often most appealing to those who are on their feet a lot for their jobs or who are committed to things like athletic events or foot races that would be significantly hindered by a toe impairment. Most experts don’t recommend home draining, but it can be done with fairly good results in many cases.

The first thing you’ll want to do is to thoroughly clean a sharp, heavy needle with rubbing alcohol and gently insert it into the blister to open it up. A clear liquid will run out, and you should keep gauze or cotton balls handy to absorb that discharge. Then, apply an antibiotic ointment to the blister and cover it with a bandage to prevent infection.

It’s really important that you not remove the nail in this process. If the blister it is located too far beneath the nail for you to reach it yourself, you will need to see a doctor. Removing your entire toenail is extremely painful and may result in a serious infection if you do it yourself.

Getting Professional Help

Medical professionals are often able to drain painful toenail blisters quickly and effectively, often by drilling a small hole in the top of the nail and suctioning the fluid out. Even this isn’t an immediate fix, though, as the foot will probably still need time to heal, and rest is important to preventing the blister from coming back.

There are also times when you should get medical attention even if you aren’t thinking of draining the blister. Extreme pain is often a sign of a more complicated problem, for instance, and discolorations and odd swellings can also be a indication that something is amiss. Blisters that seem to be filled with thick, yellow, or bad smelling fluid could be signs of a more serious infection.

Toenail Blisters

A blister can develop at different locations of the toenail. For example, you can develop a blister under or around your toenail, which is common in individuals who keep long toenails.

In some cases, the blister might form on the tip of the toe. People habitual of toe-walking are more prone to developing this type of toenail blister.

Blunt trauma (such as dropping an object) on the toe can lead to the formation of a black toenail.

Causes of a Toenail Blister

Getting a toenail blister is inconvenient and painful, but how did it get there? The following are some of the most common causes that result in the development of a toenail blister:

Ill-Fitting Shoes

Wearing small and tight shoes can lead to the formation of toenail blisters. Studies show that shoe sole geometry and selection play an important role in determining toe clearance. A lack of toe clearance increases the chances of acquiring toenail blisters.

Well, it is not just tight shoes that increase your propensity to develop a toenail blister. If you wear a loose shoe, your foot will slide forward, and the increased friction will lay the foundation for a toenail blister.

Clawed Toes

Some people have clawed toes, which can land them in pain by blisters. According to clinical studies, diabetes patients are hospitalized for foot ulcers, clawed toes, and associated toe blisters.

Thick and Rough Toenails

You are inviting a toenail blister by keeping the toenails long and rough. Long nails are prone to breaking, infection, and blisters.

Running Downhill

Runners and athletes who practice by running on downhill terrains have a greater chance of developing a toenail blister because running down an inclined plane increases pressure on your toes and toenails.

Apply an Ointment

Though ointments are not very effective for blisters, you can try to get symptomatic relief. The best thing you can apply to a toenail blister is petroleum jelly. It prevents friction between the feet and allows quicker healing. Caring correctly for the blister can effectively prevent infection of the toenail.

Toenail Blister Prevention

Like any injury to the skin, it is easier to prevent them than to treat them after they've happened. That may be easier said than done, but the following are some viable tips to prevent the formation of toenail blisters.

Fix Your Shoewear

Finding the right-sized shoe can help relieve you of the pain from a blister. You can take advice from a podiatrist regarding the perfect shoewear. Proper footwear can help prevent painful conditions such as blisters. Research shows that using lubricants and the right socks/shoes can prevent the formation of friction blisters.

Changing and finding footwear can be tricky. So, if you feel your shoe fit is alright and only your toes need relief, you can follow what professional runners do. Professional runners tear away the front part of their shoes. Thus, you can also cut the toe out of your shoe and enjoy pain-free walking.

Lessen Pressure on the Toes

You can improve your toe blister symptoms by changing your walking habits. You can also take help from commercial toe-props. The medically designed toe props make your toes sit straighter in the shoes. Thus, there is less pressure on the toenail. Patients can get custom-made toe props from a podiatrist.

Cut Your Nails 

As long nails are breeding grounds for blisters, it is better to clip them in a timely manner. Thick nails cut with a toenail clipper have a better shape and are not rough. So, there are fewer chances of blister formation.

Running Modifications

Sportspersons who practice running downhill can modify their gait to avoid blister formation. Runners can learn the lacing techniques to land the foot such that it doesn't exert excessive pressure on the toe.

Paronychia is an infection that develops around the skin of a toenail. The fluid inside blisters can get infected with bacteria or fungi, called bacterial paronychia and fungal paronychia.

Untreated paronychia may affect the underlying bone in some cases. Rarely, and only in the most drastic situations, it may require the removal of a finger or toe to prevent the infection from spreading to other parts of the body. However, this will be highly unlikely if you follow proper prevention and treatment.

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Discussion Comments
By stoneMason — On Aug 19, 2013

Has anyone had to cut out a part of their nail to drain and treat a toenail blister? I just had to do this and I'm not in a lot of pain but I'm worried about infection and my nail.

Will my nail grow out properly? Is there something I can do to encourage it to grow and heal more quickly?

By ZipLine — On Aug 19, 2013

@donasmrs-- I don't think it's a good idea to pop and drain blisters. The liquid inside the blister is actually a good thing. It protects the blister from infection, helps healing and serves as a cushion. If you pop it, the risk of infection will be higher.

My advice to you is to buy some of those gel-like blister bandages from the pharmacy and put it over the blister. If you can, wear soft shoes with soft socks to protect the blister. And let the blister heal on its own.

As long as your socks are clean, even if the blister pops on its own, it shouldn't get infected. You can apply some antibiotic ointment on it if that happens.

By donasmrs — On Aug 18, 2013

I have a toenail blister on my right foot and I'm scared that it's going to pop and get infected inside my shoe.

I'm fairly active and have to go to work. What should I do? Should I pop it?

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