What is hand eczema?
Eczema is a common skin condition that causes red, thick, itchy, dry, and cracked skin. Eczema can occur virtually anywhere on the body. When you have eczema on your hands, it can be difficult to treat. While some cases are minor, more serious cases of hand eczema may affect daily life.
What are the symptoms?
Hand eczema can be acute, leading to occasional flare-ups that go away quickly, or it can be chronic, causing continuous symptoms.
Symptoms can occur anywhere on your hands, fingers, or wrists. The first sign of hand eczema is usually chapped, dry skin. Some other symptoms to look for if you think you have eczema on your hands include:
- scaly, swollen skin
- itchy skin that varies in intensity
- burning sensation
- blisters that itch
- cracks that are deep and painful
- skin that oozes pus or bleeds
- crusty or painful skin
Hand eczema is often mistaken for dry skin because it shares some of the same symptoms. But hand eczema requires more treatment than dry skin, which can usually be relieved with a good moisturizer.
What can I do if I have eczema on my hands?
Hand eczema is sometimes tricky to treat. Chronic or recurring cases of hand eczema sometimes don’t respond to typical treatments. This is because we use our hands for so many tasks and wash them often, making it more difficult for topical medications to work.
There are prescription treatments available from your doctor but there are a number of home remedies you can try as well to help eczema on your hands.
Home remedies for eczema
If you feel your eczema is interfering with your everyday life, you may want to consider taking a few days to allow your hands to heal. If you have a severe case of hand eczema, you might need more time.
Home treatments for hand eczema may take several weeks to work. But persistence will help keep your hands healthy. If you’re experiencing hand eczema, one of these home treatments may help:
- Before bed, soak your hands in one quart of water mixed with four capfuls of coal tar shampoo for half an hour every night for six weeks. Rinse and pat your hands dry.
- Apply an anti-itch cream containing at least 1 percent hydrocortisone to your hands after moisturizing to relieve itching. Do this as needed, up to twice daily.
- Cover your hands with cotton gloves or bandages to avoid scratching.
- Apply Bag Balm or petroleum jelly to your hands before bed.
- Take an oral allergy pill such as an antihistamine or diphenhydramine (Benadryl). Note that diphenhydramine may cause drowsiness, so it’s best taken before bedtime.
- Use a humidifier in your home, which can help keep skin moist.
- Avoid and address stress and anxiety, which may worsen eczema.
How can I prevent eczema flare-ups?
If you have eczema on your hands, the first step is to identify what’s irritating your skin. Many common substances can cause hand eczema even if they’re harmless.
Chefs, hairstylists, plumbers, and people in other professions who frequently have wet hands often have hand eczema. Hand eczema is also common among those who work with chemicals such as cement, detergents, and solvents.
Allergic reactions to substances such as latex can also cause this condition. Hand eczema is common among healthcare workers and others who continuously wear latex gloves. Food allergies may also trigger hand eczema symptoms.
In other cases, it might be more challenging to determine the cause of your hand eczema. Those who’ve had eczema as a child or have family members with eczema are more likely to develop the condition as an adult. Those who experience stress and anxiety are also more likely to develop the condition.
One of the easiest things you can do to prevent eczema is to wear work-appropriate gloves if you’re in a profession that exposes you to eczema-triggering substances. Avoid latex gloves if possible. Replace any gloves that develop a hole and never wear wet gloves.
Here are some preventive measures you can take, even if you don’t know what’s causing your hand eczema:
- Wear warm gloves when it’s cold outside. Hands are easily dried out by cold temperatures. Wear warm gloves or mittens when spending time outside.
- Wash your hands while avoiding irritation. Use warm water and a mild cleanser, such as a beauty bar or moisturizing liquid. This will clean your hands without removing protective oils from your skin.
- Put moisturizer on your hands in generous amounts throughout the day. Choose an intensive, unscented moisturizer and apply it immediately after washing your hands multiple times a day. Moisturizers that contain glycerin or petrolatum are usually most effective.
- Control your diet to avoid food allergies. Stop eating any foods that appear to worsen your symptoms.
- Limit your time in the shower or bathtub to 10 to 15 minutes. Bathing too long can remove the oils from your skin and cause it to be dryer. Use warm, not hot, water.
- Soak your hands in a bleach bath. A bleach bath can reduce bacteria on your skin and help minimize your symptoms. Add one teaspoon of household bleach per one gallon of water to a container or sink filled with warm, never hot, water. Soak your hands for about 10 minutes. Don’t do this more than twice a week.
- Choose mild soaps and moisturizers. Avoid products with scent, antibacterial properties, or any harsh chemicals.
- Dry your hands with care. Always pat your hands dry with a soft towel instead of rubbing when they’re wet. Moisturize your hands immediately after washing.
How is eczema diagnosed?
If you suspect you have hand eczema, the first step is to pay a visit to your doctor. Chances are, he or she will refer you to a skin specialist, or dermatologist. They’ll ask you to list all your symptoms and recall how long they’ve lasted.
Besides reviewing your medical history, a dermatologist will also closely examine your skin to make a diagnosis. He or she may also take a tissue sample or perform a patch test to check for allergies to help rule out other skin conditions.
When to see your doctor
If your hands are very dry and painful even after trying home remedies, a doctor can help identify the causes of your eczema and how best to treat it. A dermatologist’s help can make it much easier to control eczema on hands.
Hand eczema is a common condition with many causes. Luckily, it can often be treated at home and prevented by avoiding its causes. With some patience and effort, it should clear up over time. Consult a dermatologist if you’re having trouble treating your hand eczema.