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Tea Bags, Betadine, and Blisters
by Megan Spence
posted on March 1, 2004

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Blisters happen.
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The "Believers" column on blisters last July (When Bad Blisters Happen to Good People) triggered this letter full of useful information from a reader who is a nurse and a coxswain. We hope it will spare rowers much pain. Huge thanks to Megan Spence for contributing.
- Rob

Hello: I just read your article on blisters. I was a gymnast before I was a cox (about 11 years, and I miss it --rowing that is). I work in Surgery as a nurse and I have picked the brains of burn specialists and hand surgeons about this subject because it is a big deal in the sport of rowing. For help in callus formation and open blister protection/skin drying ........Wet Tea bags.

Hold tea bags in each hand over the blisters. Tea Bags will sting at first (as liquid does with any blister). The tea seems to act as a sort of anesthetic (the tannic acid) as well as hardener (especially for that really tender first day of a blister rip). Do not wash or wipe hands after application. Some staining will occur, but it will wash off eventually. To prevent rips of this nicely formed hard skin, keep a file/pumice stone in your goodie kit and file them down ever so carefully. Once the new layer of skin has formed under the blister (few days), the top hard skin can be carefully cut off by pinching the skin and cutting across so you do not poke the scissors in the pocket, if it was huge-trim, and the stone can be used to file the edges down (so you are not tempted to tear off any extra pieces and cause more "trauma").

The best place to pop a blister is in the opposite direction of the searing force. (Looking at your hand with finger tips up, that place would be close to your fingers). That way the blisters are less likely to pull open. If it does tear open, let the top layer dry (again tea bags), and tape up your blisters until the day comes when you touch the area and it doesn't make you squirm in pain. There are many nasty bugs that grow on oar handles, in bodies of water, and even on your fellow rowers. It is best to keep them protected. I work in Surgery as a nurse and I have picked the brains of burn specialists and hand surgeons about this subject--believe it or not --because it is a big deal in the sport of rowing. Different philosophies. The main thing is to keep it protected in the early stages of healing so that the new layers can form and form stronger.

Also, for bad bloody type blisters, Betadine is a much better antimicrobial (peroxide is not) and isn't as caustic as peroxide, or painful as peroxide and alcohol. However, betadine doesn't give you the great bubbling action of peroxide that everyone loves to see. Betadine is also a little more expensive, unless of course you have a health care professional affiliated with your team (wink, wink).

row2k author
Rob Colburn
Rob Colburn coxed for St. Andrew's School and for Columbia University, and currently coxes for the masters rowing program at Carnegie Lake Rowing Association.
Send Rob Email! Also, check out his new novel The Sultan's Helmsman

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