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Things to know about hand eczema
Eczema is a common skin condition that can cause irritation, peeling and flaking skin, and, in extreme cases, blistering, open sores, oozing, and skin damage. The condition is not contagious. When judging the reasons for eczema on the hands, nutritional deficiency may be one cause.
There are many different causes of eczema — a skin condition that ranges from mild to severe irritation and damage. Deficiency, physical irritation, and chemical irritation can all reduce your skin’s ability to serve as a proper protective barrier to irritants.
Twin studies done on siblings with eczema have found that there are both heritable and environmental contributions to the condition.
Research is complicated by the fact that everyone’s eczema tends to be uniquely triggered. The condition may be a reaction to stress, a physical irritant, or an allergic reaction to something like latex in gloves.
What is hand eczema?
Hand eczema involves itchy, irritable, and painful patches across your hands and wrists. In 29% of cases, it’s also associated with foot eczema.
It’s present in around 5% to 8% of the population, though roughly one-third of those affected never seek medical help.
Hand eczema is equally common in adolescents and adults. It occurs more often in women than men. This could be because women spend more time on average doing wet work — like washing dishes — than men.
Hand eczema can be acute or chronic, depending on how frequently symptoms occur and how long they last. The condition is classified as acute hand eczema when there is a major flare-up no more than once per year, and the symptoms last less than three months. In chronic hand eczema, outbreaks appear twice or more in a year, and the symptoms last for more than three months.
What are the symptoms of hand eczema?
The symptoms of chronic eczema tend to be much more severe than acute eczema. Still, both of them involve:
Symptoms more common in chronic eczema include:
- Crusty and scaly patches on your skin
- Deep and painful cracks in your skin
A different type of hand eczema, called dyshidrotic eczema, causes small, itchy blisters on the palms of your hands.
You also have an increased risk of developing bacterial and viral skin infections from the openings created by your hand eczema. These can come with their own symptoms and dangers.
Besides these physical risks, you may experience a decreased quality of life and emotional strain from dealing with the unexpected side effects of social stigma and potentially missing time at work. One survey found that 33% of people with occupational hand eczema had to change their profession due to the condition.
Causes of hand eczema
Eczema and nutritional deficiency
Eczema is a systemic disease that can express itself in many parts of the body. Eczema caused by environmental irritants and allergens may have specific causes. However, often the causes are broad systemic reactions, located where they are for reasons that may never be clear. Such causes include stress, hormonal conditions, genetic causes, and nutritional deficiency. However, limited research has been done on eczema and nutritional deficiency, and none specific to eczema on the hands.
Two studies link generalized eczema to Vitamin D deficiency and a lack of antioxidants in people’s food. But none of these studies are conclusive, and none were focused on hand eczema.
In general, there’s a correlation between low vitamin D levels and increased severity of eczema symptoms. More research is needed to confirm that this observation is more than a mere coincidence.
Subjects in a third study were less likely to develop eczema when their diets included foods rich in antioxidants — like broccoli and spinach. Again, more research is needed to verify and understand these results.
General causes of eczema
There are many specific causes of hand eczema. It can be triggered by spending too much time doing wet work — activities involving water or other liquids on your hands — or by interacting with something as simple as garlic. Cold, dry weather, and a decrease in indoor humidity are all associated with increased rates of hand eczema.
Work-related contact with products can be a significant cause of hand eczema. Examples of triggering products include:
- Anything that causes wet conditions near your hands
This condition is called occupational eczema when the cause is related to your job.
Jobs that involve cleaning, catering, healthcare work, or hairdressing are all examples of positions that come with a higher risk of hand eczema.
Since the causes come in such a wide variety, you need to figure out precisely what is triggering your reaction, so you can try to make changes.
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How can you treat the different causes of hand eczema?
Patient education on what to avoid and how to properly moisturize is considered key when it comes to proper management of your eczema. The most important first step to treating your hand eczema is to determine everything that triggers it.
You can try to determine these triggers by the process of elimination. For example, if your symptoms started soon after you began using a new product or taking part in a new activity, try avoiding that new thing to see if your symptoms clear up.
If you suspect that a nutritional deficiency is contributing to your eczema, try adding vitamin supplements or antioxidant-rich foods to your daily routine. But always talk to your doctor before starting a new vitamin or supplement — just in case they don’t combine well with other medications that you take or health complications that you have.
In many cases, you’ll need medical help to figure out your triggers. Dermatologists are the best doctors to help you with skin conditions like eczema.
Your doctor will determine your daily habits and the things you come into contact with and use this information to create a patch test. This will hopefully pinpoint exactly which irritant is causing your eczema.
Another important part of your treatment is to avoid drying out your hands. The best way to keep them moist is by consistently applying thick creams and ointments. Sometimes topical corticosteroids and antihistamines can help you manage problems with inflammation.
Many lotions do more harm than good when it comes to hand eczema because of their high water content. Check the ingredients and choose low water contents when choosing a moisturizer. Thicker products such as petroleum jelly are the most effective at relieving hand eczema symptoms.
Situations like global pandemics oftentimes require the use of alcohol-based sanitizers to help keep you safe from infections. But it’s generally recommended that people with hand eczema avoid all alcohol-based products if any other cleaning measures are available. The alcohol in these products will dry out your skin and might make your symptoms worse or trigger a flare-up.
Other conditions can worsen your symptoms and should be avoided if possible, including:
What’s the prognosis for hand eczema?
Unfortunately, although many people can manage their symptoms, it’s often difficult to completely prevent flare-ups. A complete cure is most likely in cases of hand eczema where you’re able to identify and entirely avoid a particular trigger.
But one study that tracked a population with hand eczema for fifteen years found that 44% of them had still experienced symptoms within the past year.
What conditions are sometimes mistaken for hand eczema?
There are other conditions that are sometimes confused with hand eczema.
Some examples of conditions with similar symptoms include:
It’s important for you to seek medical care to help determine the cause of any hand irritation or rash that lasts for extended periods or greatly interferes with your daily life.
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American Academy of Dermatology Association: "Dry, Scaly, and Painful Hands Could Be Hand Eczema."
European Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Antioxidant nutrient intakes and corresponding biomarkers associated with the risk of atopic dermatitis in young children."
Journal of Clinical Medicine: "Vitamin D and the Development of Atopic Eczema."
Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology: "Hand eczema: epidemiology, prognosis and prevention."
Mount Sinai Journal of Medicine: "Eczema."
National Eczema Association: "Hand Eczema."
Journal of Primary Care and Community Health: "Hand Hygiene Habits and Prevalence of Hand Eczema During the COVID-19 Pandemic."
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