Is the skin on your hands dry and scaly?  Do you have cracks on your hands that are painful and sometimes bleed?  You may have thought this was just dry skin, but hand eczema might be the culprit.  About 10% of the US population has hand eczema.  This is often more symptomatic during the winter months.  Let’s talk about how to recognize hand eczema and some tips to help improve the symptoms.
What are the symptoms of hand eczema?
  • Hand EczemaDry, chapped skin
  • Patches of red and irritated skin
  • Painful skin or a burning sensation of the skin
  • Scaly, inflamed skin
  • Itching, which may be severe
  • Blisters (that may itch)
  • Deep, painful cracks in the skin
  • Bleeding or weeping skin
  • Crusting or draining pus
What causes hand eczema?
Hand eczema can be caused by many things, even things that may seem harmless.  Finding the cause of hand eczema is an important part of treatment.  It can involve a lot of time and detective work to find the cause, but it is worth it.  Here are some common causes:
  • Family history – If your parents or grandparents had hand eczema, you are more likely to develop it.
  • Personal medical history – If you had atopic dermatitis (sometimes called atopic eczema) as a child, you are more likely to develop hand eczema as an adult.
  • Allergies – If you have allergies to pollen and other environmental allergies, this increases your chance of developing hand eczema.
  • Allergic reaction – Hand eczema can develop due to a specific allergy, such as an allergy to latex gloves.
  • Irritants – Anything that irritates your skin can cause hand eczema.  This can include garlic, hot peppers, acidic foods (like tomatoes or citrus) and other irritants.
  • Water exposure – People whose hands are frequently wet can get hand eczema, such as people who wash their hands frequently (like nurses or doctors), or people who have their hands in water for long periods of time (like dishwashers, plumbers, etc.)
  • Chemical exposure – Working with chemicals like solvents, cement, or detergents increases your risk, which is why hand eczema is common in machinists and construction workers.
How can you treat hand eczema?
  • Avoid the cause of your eczema.  This is the best treatment!!  If you know what causes your eczema, avoiding that trigger can make such a difference in keeping the symptoms controlled.
  • Avoid excessive water exposure.  If you must wash your hands frequently, use lukewarm (not hot) water, then gently blot them dry.
  • Avoid exposure to dry air or other things that might dry your skin.  Wear gloves when you go out in the cold, dry air.  Do not fold clothes straight out of the dryer while they are still warm.
  • Use cotton gloves when you do chores like folding laundry.
  • Use vinyl gloves with cotton liners when doing work that involves getting your hands wet.  If water gets in the gloves, take them off immediately and replace with new gloves.  Be sure to let your gloves dry completely before using them again.
  • Use disposable gloves when working with foods like peppers, acidic foods, etc.  Throw them away once you are finished.
  • Use fragrance-free, dye-free detergents for your laundry.
  • Avoid exposure to alcohol and solvents as much as possible.  This is a tough thing to ask in the middle of a pandemic when we need to use hand sanitizer, but people with hand eczema should use these products sparingly.
  • Moisturizing and barrier repair creams – Use moisturizers frequently, especially after exposure to water or dry air.  Keep one near your sink so that you can use it every time after washing your hands.
  • Oatmeal soaks – You have probably heard of oatmeal baths, but you can also use this same process in a smaller version to soak your hands to help control hand eczema.
  • Topical steroids – Hydrocortisone cream or ointment is available over the counter.  There are many other steroid creams that are stronger than hydrocortisone available by prescription.
You can also find more information by following this link.

Eczema Symptoms & Causes | National Eczema Association

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Dr. Anita Bennett MD – Health Tip Content Editor

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