Hand Eczema

by Anne Windermere Patient Advocate

One chronic skin condition which may be particularly frustrating to deal with is hand eczema. It may start off as itchy patches of skin on the hand but can then progress over time to cause inflamed painful skin which may crack or even develop bumps which seep fluid. Hand eczema may be especially difficult to cope with and to treat because we use our hands so much. It can be difficult to give the skin a rest as we need our hands for most daily activities as well as for completing tasks related to our occupation. In this post we will explore the causes and symptoms for hand eczema and then what you can do to reduce flare ups or hopefully get rid of it once and for all.

Who gets hand eczema?

  • People of all ages can develop hand eczema but the most common age for it to develop is between the ages of 2-39, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

  • If you had eczema as a child or teen, you are more likely to continue to experience symptoms as an adult including developing hand eczema.

  • You may be more prone to developing hand eczema if there is a history of atopic dermatitis or eczema in your family. Having a personal or family history of asthma or hay fever also increases your risks.

  • Certain occupations increase the chance for hand eczema to develop and become a chronic problem due to frequent immersion of the hands in water or chronic exposure to harsh chemicals. Some of these occupations may include: Painting, catering, hairdressing, healthcare, metalwork, cleaning, and some types of mechanical work.

What are the symptoms of hand eczema?

  • Reddened, dry, and easily chapped skin covering any area of the hand including the backs or palms.

  • Scaley inflamed patches of skin that itch.

  • Itchy bumps and blisters which may crack open and weep fluid.

  • If there is a bacterial infection there may be pain and the skin may crust over.

  • Hand eczema which goes untreated may result in the eczema spreading to other locations, especially the forearms and feet.

  • In some cases hand eczema can result in causing damage to the fingernails.

What causes hand eczema?

Causes may range from genetics to overexposure of the hands to certain chemicals. Frequent immersion of the hands in water can also trigger the symptoms of hand eczema. In some cases the culprit can be some sort of allergy. If your hand eczema does not go away over time and progresses in severity despite treatment, your doctor may send you to get patch testing for allergies.

One common allergy causing substance for many people is the added fragrance to soaps, lotions, and detergents. Other people may be allergic to chemicals such as Bronopol, which can still be found in some cosmetics and personal care items. For a more thorough list of ingredients or chemicals which can cause or exacerbate the symptoms of hand eczema please refer to the informational page found on the National Eczema Association website.

What can be done to treat hand eczema?

  • Your first step in treating this skin condition is to seek the guidance of a certified dermatologist. Your general practitioner may have some treatment ideas but a dermatologist is going to be better able to assess your skin condition and devise an individualized treatment plan tailored for your unique situation. To find a dermatologist in your area, please refer to The American Academy of Dermatology find a dermatologist page.

  • It is important to seek help for hand eczema early on before it becomes disabling. There are some instances where the individual has to stop working because their hand eczema has become too painful. Get help before your skin becomes blistered or infected. There are many possibilities of treatment which can help.

  • There are many lifestyle changes which can help to ease the flare ups, discomfort, and pain of hand eczema. These lifestyle changes can include things using Cetaphil or Aquanil to sanitize or wash your hands instead of antibacterial cleansers. During an eczema flare up some of the ingredients in the antibacterial cleansers may worsen your symptoms.

For a more complete listing of daily tips to decrease your hand eczema symptoms please read the information given by The National Eczema Association.

  • Your doctor or dermatologist will have ideas of medications you can use to treat your hand eczema. Traditional therapies may include topical corticosteroids, oral antibiotics especially if infection is present, and the use of an emollient such as Vaseline to protect affected areas.

  • A new drug called alitretinoin shows much promise to relieve the symptoms of hand eczema. Some patients who have chronic hand eczema do not respond well to the usual topical corticosteroid treatment. This retinoid has been shown to be highly effective for those patients who are unresponsive to traditional treatments. This drug is currently being marketed in Canada and some European countries. You can check the status of the U.S. clinical trials for this drug on the manufacturer's website.

Anne Windermere
Meet Our Writer
Anne Windermere

These articles were written by a longtime HealthCentral community member who shared valuable insights from her experience living with multiple chronic health conditions. She used the pen name "Merely Me."