What is eczema?

Eczema is a skin condition that causes red, itchy, scaly skin. Things that trigger eczema on the hands include excessive hand washing, harsh soap, scented lotion, and other irritants.
Eczema is a skin condition that causes red, itchy, scaly skin. Things that trigger eczema on the hands include excessive hand washing, harsh soap, scented lotion, and other irritants.

If your hands are red, scaly, and itchy, you might have eczema. Eczema refers to any condition that causes skin inflammation. If you experience eczema on your hands, you can relieve symptoms and reduce future flare-ups by avoiding triggers. 

Eczema is a common skin condition affecting 10% of adults and 20% of children every year. Eczema occurs when the top layers of your skin become inflamed. This can cause discomfort and even pain in your hands. Itching and redness are two of the earliest and most notable symptoms. 

Eczema is a general term for skin inflammation caused by many different conditions. Atopic dermatitis is the most common cause of eczema. For this reason, the terms atopic dermatitis and eczema are often used interchangeably.

Eczema can be acute or chronic. Hands with acute eczema are red, sometimes blistered or crusted, and intensely itchy. Chronic eczema leaves hands dry and not as inflamed. Chronic eczema can make skin appear extremely dry, scaly, and thickened. Eczema of the hands is typically a chronic condition with occasional acute flare-ups.

Many people with eczema on their hands have a genetic predisposition to eczema and experience higher rates of conditions such as allergies and asthma. Eczema is not contagious.

Symptoms of hand eczema 

Eczema can appear anywhere on your skin, including on your hands. It may be on the back of your hands, your palms, or your fingertips. Depending on the severity, symptoms can be mild or intense. Some people with eczema of their hands find it challenging to complete daily tasks due to discomfort.

You might have eczema of the hands if you have any of the following symptoms: 

  • Extremely dry and chapped skin
  • Itchy skin that appears inflamed 
  • Crusty or oozing skin
  • Patches of red or dark brown skin 
  • Thickening of the skin 
  • Scaly skin 
  • Blisters 
  • Cracked skin 

Eczema on your hands can look like ordinary dry skin, especially in the early stages. Unlike dry skin, however, someone with eczema will need more than just moisturizer to find relief. Once you have eczema on your hands, it tends to reoccur in the same locations. 

If you have eczema on your hands, you will want to learn what triggers your eczema and take good care of your skin. Avoiding triggers can minimize future flare-ups. 

Triggers for eczema

An allergy or an irritant can trigger eczema on the hands. Eczema can also be due to a sensitivity to the environment, such as exposure to cold. Common triggers for eczema on hands include:

  • Excessive hand washing 
  • Harsh soap
  • Scented lotion
  • Sweating 
  • Jewelry 
  • Dishwashing liquid 
  • Nail polish and nail polish remover 
  • Cleaning products 
  • Perfume 
  • Wool or rough fabric
  • Scratching the skin 
  • Smoking 
  • High humidity 
  • Cold temperatures 

Treatments for hand eczema 

Once you've identified your eczema, you can take steps to treat your skin, improve your comfort, and encourage healing. 

  • Skincare. Wash your hands with gentle cleansers and frequently apply moisturizer. You will need to keep your hands clean to avoid infection, but don't wash more often than necessary. Frequent washing can make eczema worse. Be gentle with your skin. 
  • Corticosteroids. One of the most popular prescriptions for eczema on the hands is topical corticosteroid cream. The cream is applied directly to eczema to reduce inflammation and itching. Once the inflammation has resolved, follow your doctor's instructions for discontinuing use. Topical corticosteroids are effective, but they also can make the skin on your hands thinner and more fragile. 
  • Phototherapy. Phototherapy, also known as light therapy, can treat hand eczema that doesn't respond to topical treatment. Phototherapy machines emit intense UVA or UVB light for a short time, exposing affected areas. It can take several treatments over the course of one or two months before you see improvement.
  • Antihistamines. Antihistamines can offer some relief from itching and are available over the counter. 
  • Drugs for your immune system. In some cases, your doctor might prescribe a medication to regulate your immune system. Atopic dermatitis can be caused by an overreaction of your immune system, which triggers inflammation. An injection of a biologic drug, also known as biologics, can calm your immune system down and reduce inflammation.

Tips for avoiding hand eczema triggers 

If you've had eczema on your hands, there's a good chance the condition will reappear. To lower the chance of eczema returning, you'll want to avoid triggers. For example, if you're allergic to metal, you'll need to avoid wearing rings and bracelets with metal. 

Hand eczema doesn't typically have a single cause or trigger. In addition to avoiding your known sensitivities, follow these tips to avoid common hand eczema triggers:

  • Wash your hands with lukewarm water. Avoid overly hot or cold water. 
  • Use gentle cleansers instead of soap. Look for a cleanser that is fragrance-free and dye-free. Avoid harsh soaps.
  • Use protective gloves while cleaning or doing the dishes. Use a barrier cream to protect your hands from irritants throughout the day. 
  • Gently blot or pat your hands dry after washing. Avoid rubbing and vigorous towel drying.
  • Apply moisturizer every time you wash your hands. Use a high-oil moisturizer within three minutes of washing your hands to avoid loss of moisture.
  • Apply moisturizer and then wear cotton gloves while you sleep. This will both moisturize your hands and help you to not scratch them in your sleep.  
  • Manage your emotional stress. While stress doesn't directly cause eczema, it can make flare-ups worse.

If you're vigilant about avoiding triggers and you're gentle with your skin, you can keep your hands comfortable and minimize future eczema flare-ups.

QUESTION

Eczema (also atopic eczema or atopic dermatitis) is a general medical term for many types of skin inflammation. See Answer

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Medically Reviewed on 3/25/2022
References
SOURCES:

American Academy of Dermatology Association: "Dry, Scaly, and Painful Hands Could Be Hand Eczema," "Eczema Types: Atopic Dermatitis Overview."

Eczema Foundation: "Eczema on the Hands."

Merck Manuals: "Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema)."

National Eczema Association: "Bathing, Moisturizing and Wet Wraps," "Over the Counter," "Prescription Injectables," "Prescription Phototherapy," "Prescription Topicals," "What is Eczema?"

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases: Eczema (Atopic Dermatitis)