Vesicles: Causes, Symptoms, and Diagnosis (2023)

Vesicles are small blisters that can appear on your skin. They can be a symptom of a medical issue or a sign of tissue injury. Some conditions, like contact dermatitis or cold sores, may not require medical attention.

Vesicles are small fluid-filled sacs or blisters that can appear on your skin. The fluid inside these sacs may be clear, white, yellow, or mixed with blood.

Vesicles are fluid-filled lesions less than 5 mm (1/2 cm). If the fluid-filled lesion is greater than 0.5 mm, it’s called a bulla. Blisters are either vesicles or bulla, depending on the size.

Blisters can be a symptom of a medical issue or a sign of tissue injury.

In anatomy, vesicles may refer to any pouch-like structure in the body. The function of these types of vesicles is to store and transport materials and waste.

Vesicles develop when fluid becomes trapped under the epidermis, the top layer of your skin. A number of different health conditions can cause them. Some of these conditions are minor, like contact dermatitis or cold sores, and don’t require medical attention.

But other causes are more serious and can signal a complicated medical issue that needs ongoing treatment. These issues may include bacterial or viral infection, autoimmune disease, and a sensitivity or allergy to medication, among others.

Causes of acute (short-lasting) vesicles on the skin include:

  • papular urticaria, a reaction from insect bites or stings
  • dermatitis or eczema
  • contact dermatitis, like from poison ivy or poison oak or reactions from skincare products
  • burns, like from radiation, sun, or chemicals
  • a reaction to medication, like a fixed drug eruption or drug hypersensitivity syndrome
  • bacterial infections, like impetigo, a skin condition caused by infection with strep or staph bacteria
  • viral infections, like chickenpox, shingles, or hand, foot, and mouth disease
  • trauma to the skin
  • herpes or cold sores

Causes of chronic blistering rashes include:

  • autoimmune disorders, like bullous pemphigoid and pemphigus vulgaris
  • skin diseases that cause blistering, like porphyria cutanea tarda
  • other rare immunobullous diseases can cause a blister-like rash

If you experience unexplained blistering rashes, acute or chronic, it’s best to see a doctor for a diagnosis.

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Vesicles caused by burns, infections, and reactions to medication can be serious and should be treated by a doctor.

If you experience blistering of the mucous membranes of the mouth, eyes, or vagina, this may be a sign of a potentially life-threatening reaction to a drug. Seek emergency medical care.

Doctors can recognize vesicles based on their bubble-like appearance. Most develop on the surface of the skin and cause it to swell with fluid. The skin around a vesicle keeps the fluid contained.

Some blister-like lesions can rupture easily. This causes fluid to leak from the blister. When the fluid dries, it may turn yellow or crusty.

Symptoms that may occur with a blistering rash include:

  • itching
  • tenderness
  • warmth at the affected skin
  • pain
  • possible oozing

The following symptoms may occur with blistering rashes:

  • fever
  • chills
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • joint pain
  • muscle weakness or muscle ache

Vesicles or blisters can occur with a rash, known as a vesicular rash.

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Some common vesicular rashes include:

  • Heat rash: Heat rashes tend to occur in hot, humid, or tropic climates. It’s caused by blockage and swelling of the sweat ducts and is usually found on the torso.
  • Infections: Bacterial or viral infections can cause rashes along with superficial vesicles or bullae.
  • Contact dermatitis: Contact dermatitis is a common cause of vesicular rash can occur after exposure to an allergen or irritant. You may develop this type of rash from poison oak or poison ivy or from touching something you might be allergic to, like substances in soap, perfume, or jewelry.

Vesicular rashes may spread quickly. In the case of viral and bacterial infections, keep the rash clean to prevent it from spreading to other parts of the body.

You should make an appointment with a doctor if you develop unexplained vesicles on your skin. If you don’t already have a doctor, try the Healthline FindCare tool to see the options available in your area.

During the visit, they’ll ask you about your recent health history and about any medical conditions that might be related to the vesicles, like other symptoms including fever, chills, itching, or pain.

They may also ask if you’ve traveled recently or had possible contact with poison ivy or sumac. They might also want to know if you’ve started any new medications or had changes made to existing ones. Finally, they may ask if you have any family history or personal history of autoimmune diseases.

They’ll also examine your skin. Your doctor may be able to diagnose the cause of your vesicles based on this information alone.

If your doctor is uncertain about a diagnosis, they may recommend more tests. They may also take a sample of fluid or a biopsy of the skin tissue from the vesicle to send to a lab. The analysis of the sample will help them to confirm a diagnosis.

Talk with a doctor about the best treatment options to reduce your symptoms.

Treatment for your vesicles depends on the cause. Over-the-counter (OTC) remedies may be enough to treat vesicles resulting from an allergic reaction, dermatitis, poison ivy, or cold sores. Many of these remedies are topical ointments that can soothe the skin. Antihistamines may be able to reduce allergy-related symptoms.

Vesicles can be accompanied by other serious symptoms, like inflammation or infection. In these cases, your doctor may prescribe medications to treat the underlying causes.

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For example, bullous pemphigoid — a type of autoimmune disorder that affects older adults — is typically treated with oral steroids to help reduce inflammation and possibly immunosuppressants or monoclonal antibodies.

Bacterial infections are typically treated with oral antibiotics so as not to aggravate the vesicles.

Vesicles caused by eczema are often treated with topical medications, including topical steroids and glucocorticoids.

Burn blisters will be treated with prescription burn creams. You may also be prescribed oral antibiotics to reduce the chance of infection.

Home treatments, including alternative remedies can often be effective for treating vesicles or blisters.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, you should care for an open or torn blister by washing the area with soap and water and then applying petroleum jelly. You can also use an OTC antibiotic ointment to help prevent infection. Cover the area with a clean, loose bandage to protect it.

Popping a vesicle isn’t typically advised. This can leave the area open to infection and make it take longer to heal. Unless the vesicle becomes large and exceptionally painful, leaving it alone is best. Most blisters heal on their own in 1 to 2 weeks.

Your outlook depends on the underlying cause. If your vesicles are caused by an allergic reaction or contact dermatitis, you’ll typically make a full recovery after treatment.

More serious cases of vesicles can be a result of your genetics or an infection with a virus, so the vesicles may reoccur throughout your life. Proper treatment may relieve your symptoms. But if you have a chronic condition, the vesicles are likely to return.

If you know you have allergies, you can help prevent vesicles by avoiding allergy triggers.

Herpes and cold sores are contagious, so you should also take care not to share cups, straws, or lip products. This precaution may also help prevent you from catching other viral illnesses.

Try not to wear tight-fitting clothing that rubs uncomfortably on the skin, especially in hot or damp weather. Opt for clothing that breathes, like cotton. You should wear proper attire for sports or physical activity, like socks with extra padding, to prevent friction. Moisture-wicking clothing can also be helpful. If you experience pain or redness, stop the activity.

Keep your skin clean, maintain good hygiene, and avoid irritants that could aggravate your skin. Using unscented products can help prevent rashes, as those with scents can irritate sensitive skin more.

Antibacterial soaps can help prevent infections from causing vesicles (and vesicles from becoming infected). Shower immediately after working out or coming into contact with a potential skin irritant.

In some instances, it may not be possible to prevent vesicles.

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Most vesicles, blisters, and bullae can be treated with OTC treatments and home remedies. But in some cases, it’s a good idea to call your doctor.

See your doctor if…

  • you’re experiencing signs of an infection, including swelling, increased redness, streaks from the vesicle, and warmth at the site of the vesicle
  • you’re getting vesicles or blisters often or have a large number of blisters and don’t know why
  • you have a band of painful vesicles on one side of your body or face, which could indicate shingles
  • you have diabetes and get vesicles or blisters on your hands, feet, or legs
  • you have fever, chills, and swollen lymph nodes, which can be a sign of a life-threatening allergy to medication
  • you have any rash spread across your body with blisters in the mouth or eyes
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If you experience a rapid spread of vesicles, especially with a rash, and symptoms like shortness of breath, pain, or dizziness, you may be having an allergic reaction to medications. In these cases, you should seek immediate medical attention.

FAQs

What is the most common cause of vesicles? ›

Causes of acute (short-lasting) vesicles on the skin include: papular urticaria, a reaction from insect bites or stings. dermatitis or eczema. contact dermatitis, like from poison ivy or poison oak or reactions from skincare products.

What is the differential diagnosis for vesicles on skin? ›

The differential diagnoses for this type of vesicular eruption include primary varicella infection, vesicular viral exanthems secondary to Coxsackievirus, pityriasis lichenoides et varioliformis acuta (PLEVA), ricketsialpox, drug eruptions, bullous insect bite reactions, bacterial skin infections (eg, cellulitis and ...

What virus causes vesicular rash? ›

Herpes zoster: Herpes zoster is a clinical skin disease caused by secondary infection by the varicella zoster virus, and does not commonly occur in children. Invasion of this virus into the peripheral nerves causes vesicular rashes in that region of skin.

Which virus is associated with vesicular rash? ›

Coxsackieviruses and echoviruses cause a variety of exanthems, which may be classified as maculopapular, petechial, or vesicular. Coxsackievirus A16 is the most common cause of the distinctive vesicular rash of HFMD. Classically, HFMD affects young children and occurs during the warm months in the United States.

What are the four types of vesicles? ›

There are several types of vesicle, including transport vesicles, secretory vesicles, and lysosomes.
...
Summary
  • transport vesicles.
  • lysosomes.
  • secretory vesicles.
  • peroxisomes.
  • extracellular vesicles.

What are the three types of vesicles? ›

There are different types of vesicles. Vacuoles regulate buoyancy and store water in plants and protists. Lysosomes degrade old materials and help digest food in animal cells and protists. Transport vesicles move materials within the cell.

Is a vesicle an infection? ›

Infectious dermatoses that can manifest as vesicles include bacteria, viruses, fungi, syphilis and other infections. In many cases, these infections are easily misdiagnosed. A detailed medical history request is the first step in making a correct diagnosis.

What diseases cause skin blisters? ›

Atopic dermatitis. Impetigo (a contagious infection of the skin) Pemphigus (a rare, blistering skin disease that often occurs in middle-aged and older adults) Pemphigoid (a blistering autoimmune disorder, more common in older adults)

What causes small fluid filled blisters? ›

A blister is a pocket of fluid between the upper layers of skin. The most common causes are friction, freezing, burning, infection, and chemical burns.

What are herpetic vesicles? ›

When symptoms do occur, herpes lesions typically appear as one or more vesicles, or small blisters, on or around the genitals, rectum or mouth. The average incubation period for an initial herpes infection is 4 days (range, 2 to 12) after exposure.

How long do vesicles last? ›

Oral Infection

Symptoms include fever, malaise, and vesicular lesions anywhere in the mouth or oropharynx. Infections can last between 10 to 14 days.

What is vesicular disease? ›

Vesicular stomatitis (VS) is a viral disease that primarily affects horses and cattle and occasionally swine, sheep, goats, llamas, and alpacas. Humans can also become infected with the disease when handling affected animals, but this is a rare event.

What are viral vesicles? ›

Extracellular Vesicles (EVs) in Viral Diseases

Extracellular vesicles (EVs) are membrane vesicles that have recently received considerable attention. EVs carry several RNA subtypes, proteins and DNA that can be functional in recipient cells after transfer.

What causes vesicles on skin? ›

A vesicle, also known as a blister or a vesicular lesion, forms when fluid becomes trapped under the top layer of skin (epidermis), creating a bubble-like sac. Skin vesicles can be caused by chickenpox, eczema, rash due to skin irritation or allergy, shingles, friction, bacterial infections, and herpes simplex.

What are two ways vesicles can be formed? ›

At present, evidence of two major pathways is found. One is that the vesicle is formed on the membrane surface, either at the plasma membrane at the cell surface or at internal cell organelles like the TGN. Another possibility is that vesicles formed elsewhere dock at, fuse with, and then break off from membranes.

What are vesicles examples? ›

Examples of vesicles include secretory vesicles, transport vesicles, synaptic vesicles and lysosomes. Vacuoles are membrane-bound organelles that can have secretory, excretory, and storage functions.

Are vesicles harmless? ›

A vesicular rash occurs when there are vesicles in the area of your rash. Most vesicular rashes are harmless and will go away, but there are some serious diseases that can cause vesicular rashes.

Where do vesicles occur? ›

Vesicles are constantly forming - especially at the plasma membrane, the ER, and the Golgi. Once formed, vesicles deliver their contents to destinations within or outside of the cell. A vesicle forms when the membrane bulges out and pinches off.

Where are vesicles located in the body? ›

Seminal vesicles are also called seminal glands or vesicular glands. They are sacs about 2 inches long that are located behind your bladder but in front of your rectum. The seminal vesicles are involved in fertility.

Can bacteria make vesicles? ›

Bacterial membrane vesicles are proteoliposomal nanoparticles produced by both Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacteria. As they originate from the outer surface of the bacteria, their composition and content is generally similar to the parent bacterium's membrane and cytoplasm.

How can I treat my vesicles at home? ›

These treatments include: applying a cold compress to the area for pain relief. taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, such as ibuprofen. using aloe vera.

What autoimmune disorder causes blisters? ›

What is pemphigus vulgaris? Pemphigus is a rare group of autoimmune diseases. It causes blisters on the skin and mucous membranes throughout the body. It can affect the mouth, nose, throat, eyes, and genitals.

What autoimmune disease has rash and blisters? ›

Bullous pemphigoid is an autoimmune disorder that occurs when the immune system attacks the skin and causes blistering. People develop large, itchy blisters with areas of inflamed skin. Doctors can diagnose bullous pemphigoid by examining skin samples under a microscope and checking for certain antibody deposits.

Can autoimmune disease cause blisters? ›

The main symptom of autoimmune blistering diseases is blisters or lesions on the skin or mucous membranes that can cause itching, pain, or sores. The blisters or lesions appear in different areas of the body, depending on the associated disease. Other symptoms occur more rarely and include: Mouth pain.

What are blisters filled with clear fluid? ›

About blisters

Fluid collects under the damaged skin, cushioning the tissue underneath. This protects the tissue from further damage and allows it to heal. Most blisters are filled with a clear fluid (serum), but may be filled with blood (blood blisters) or pus if they become inflamed or infected.

What are small blisters filled with clear liquid? ›

Itchy bumps filled with clear liquid are called blisters or vesicles. They're a feature of many common rashes. Vesicles form when fluid is trapped under the epidermis (top layer of skin). A rash with multiple vesicles is called a vesicular rash.

Can fungal infection cause vesicles? ›

Infectious dermatoses that can manifest as vesicles include bacteria, viruses, fungi, syphilis and other infections.

What autoimmune disease causes blisters on skin? ›

Pemphigus is a rare group of autoimmune diseases. It causes blisters on the skin and mucous membranes throughout the body. It can affect the mouth, nose, throat, eyes, and genitals. Pemphigus vulgaris is the most common type of pemphigus.

How do you get rid of vesicles? ›

Many vesicular rashes will improve on their own or with home treatment.
...
How Is a Vesicular Rash Treated?
  1. Avoiding triggers.
  2. Over-the-counter creams.
  3. Corticosteroid creams.
  4. Antihistamines.
  5. Antibiotics.
Apr 30, 2021

What viral infections cause blisters on skin? ›

Infections — Infections that cause blisters include bullous impetigo, an infection of the skin caused by staphylococci (staph) bacteria; viral infections of the lips and genital area due to the herpes simplex virus (types 1 and 2); chickenpox and shingles, which are caused by the varicella zoster virus; and ...

Are vesicles associated with infection? ›

Extracellular vesicles (EVs), most commonly exosomes, are consistently produced by virus-infected cells, and they play crucial roles in mediating communication between infected and uninfected cells.

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