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.