If you’re one of the 5.2 million people who get blisters on your feet each year, then you know how annoying and painful they can be. It's a burning sensation that eventually hurts so much you feel you can’t walk another step.

Foot blisters don’t have to be a fact in your life this summer. Read on to learn smart ways to  prevent blisters from forming on your feet and how best to treat them if they do.

Why foot blisters pop up

A blister is the body’s defense when something rubs an area of skin over and over — like a stiff new shoe against the back of a heel. The friction causes a pocket of fluid-filled skin to form.

In hot weather, feet often sweat and swell. That means that even properly fitting shoes can be tighter, making conditions just right for blisters to form, according to Sheldon Laps, DPM, a Washington, DC-based podiatrist. Shoes that are too loose also can lead to blisters.

Some people are more vulnerable to blisters than others, including those with foot-bone deformities such as bunions, heel spurs, hammertoes and Haglund’s deformity (a prominent bone formation at the back of the heel). Folks with flat feet are more likely to develop blisters because their shoes simply don’t fit their feet correctly, adds Laps.

Related: Footwear Do's and Don'ts if You Have Diabetes

Should you burst that bubble?

If you get a blister that doesn’t hurt much, it’s best to leave it alone. “The roof of the blister is actually a good protective dressing,” explains Stacy P. Salob, MD, clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Cornell University Medical College and New York Presbyterian Hospital. “Your body will absorb the fluid and the skin will heal.”

However, it’s OK to pop a really painful blister. To do it safely, follow these steps:

1. Wash your hands with soap and water. Do the same to the blister.

2. Rinse a clean sewing needle in alcohol or swipe it with an alcohol prep wipe. Never use the flame from a match to sterilize a needle. It will leave a carbon residue that could lead to infection if it gets under your skin, warns Salob.

3. Use the tip of the clean needle to gently poke the edge of the blister. Gently press on it to release the liquid. “Don’t unroof the blister,” adds Laps. “The raw skin underneath will be prone to infection if it’s exposed.”

4. Smear a topical antibiotic such as Neosporin or Bacitracin on the site and cover it with a bandage. Change the bandage every couple of days.

The blister will heal — and feel better — faster if you soak your foot in Epsom salts (or even regular table salt) for 20 minutes at a time a few times a day. This will help draw out the liquid, Laps says. Fill a footbath or your tub with a few inches of warm water, add the salts and let your poor dogs dangle in the soothing soak.

Related: How to Treat Dry Cracked Heels

When to worry

Most blisters don’t require medical attention, but if you develop any of the following signs of infection, you should see your doctor.

  • Red lines emanating from the blister
  • Blood in the blister
  • Pus or yellow liquid coming out of it
  • Fever or increasing pain

You also should have a doctor check your feet if you develop blisters frequently and in multiples. You may have a condition called epidermolysis bullosa, says Salob.

Keeping blisters at bay

Choose shoes that fit properly. Whether they’re too tight or too loose, poor-fitting shoes can rub against any areas of your foot and cause blisters to form. If you have trouble finding shoes that fit, orthotics, which usually are prescribed by a podiatrist, will help keep your feet in place inside your shoes.

When you wear socks with shoes, opt for a pair that absorbs moisture and change them if they get sweaty, advises Dr. Salob. If you know you’re going to do something repetitive — like running a marathon or playing three grueling sets of tennis — dab a little petroleum jelly on tender, friction-prone areas of your feet (toe edges, toenails, heels).

Do repetitive physical activities on a forgiving surface. For example, if you’re a runner, try to run on a track or on grass rather than the pavement. If you play tennis, look for Har-Tru (clay) courts rather than cement ones.

“I treat more blisters for runners who use a treadmill than for those who run outside,” Laps adds. He explains that when running on an uneven surface there’s more variation in how the foot moves inside a shoe. On a treadmill, feet are more likely to be exposed to constant friction on one area.

Any shoes that give you blisters once are likely to do it again. If they’re shoes you dearly love and want to keep, banish them to the closet until your feet are healed. When you wear them again, protect blister-prone areas with moleskin. 

Related: 8 Fashion Mistakes That Could Wreck Your Health