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Understanding Eczema on Hands: Causes, Treatments and Prevention

atopic dermatitis, symptoms of hand eczema, more than dry skin

Dealing with eczema on your hands can be more than just a physical discomfort; it’s often a daily challenge that affects your life in many ways. Hand dermatitis, as it’s known, is not just a common skin issue but a personal journey for many. Whether you’re experiencing mild dryness and redness or grappling with severe itching, cracking, and sometimes even bleeding, strategies and treatments are available to help manage symptoms.

This guide explores the ins and outs of hand eczema. We dive into its causes, symptoms, and treatment options. Consider this article your go-to resource whether you’re facing occasional flare-ups or managing chronic conditions. From practical tips for everyday care to professional medical advice, you’ll find what you need to understand and combat eczema on your hands.

Hand Eczema: Understanding the Basics

Hand eczema, also referred to as hand dermatitis, is a chronic skin condition affecting approximately 14.5% of the general population.¹ Similar to eczema in other parts of the body, it is characterised by difficulty retaining moisture in the skin, leading to dryness and heightened sensitivity. This condition triggers the release of chemicals that intensify irritation, prompting individuals to scratch affected areas. ² Unfortunately, scratching exacerbates the itchiness, perpetuating a frustrating cycle of discomfort. Hand eczema can have significant consequences on daily life, causing individuals to miss work or school, experience reduced productivity, and face challenges in performing tasks that require the use of hands.¹

atopic dermatitis, symptoms of hand eczema, more than dry skin

Causes and Triggers of Hand Eczema

Hand eczema develops due to various factors interacting together. These include genetics, environment, and exposure to substances that can irritate the skin. When someone has hand eczema, their skin doesn’t hold onto moisture well and becomes more sensitive and prone to irritation. The outer layer of the skin, known as the epidermal barrier, normally protects against losing moisture and prevents allergens and irritants from getting into the skin. However, in people with hand eczema, this barrier doesn’t work as effectively. The most common reasons people develop hand eczema are having a genetic tendency to skin problems, being exposed to substances that their skin reacts to (like allergens or irritants), or damage from things that are harsh to the skin.¹

type of eczema, bacterial infection, hand eczema

Managing Eczema on Hands

Hand eczema, like other forms of eczema, is a treatable condition that requires ongoing care to manage symptoms effectively. The treatment approach for hand eczema involves a combination of topical therapies and, in more severe cases, systemic treatments. Here’s how you can manage your hand eczema:

Moisturise Regularly

Apply a moisturiser or emollient to your hands at least twice daily, even when your eczema is not flaring up. Choose thicker creams or ointments that help to retain moisture and protect your skin barrier.

Topical Corticosteroids

During flare-ups, your doctor may prescribe topical corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and relieve itching. These medications are applied directly to the affected areas and come in different strengths depending on the severity of your symptoms. It’s important to follow your doctor’s instructions carefully to minimise potential side effects.

Avoid Triggers

Identify and avoid substances that trigger your eczema. These can include irritants like certain soaps or chemicals. Protect your hands with gloves when working with substances that could aggravate your skin.

Cool and Soothe

Use wet dressings or cool compresses to soothe your skin during flare-ups. This can help to reduce itching and inflammation.

Antihistamines

If itching is severe, your doctor may recommend antihistamines to help control it. These can be particularly helpful at night to improve sleep and prevent scratching.

UV Phototherapy

For more stubborn cases, phototherapy using ultraviolet light (PUVA) may be recommended. This treatment helps to reduce inflammation and can be effective when topical therapies alone are insufficient.

Systemic Treatments

In severe cases that do not respond adequately to topical treatments, systemic therapies such as oral steroids or immunosuppressive medications may be prescribed. These are reserved for cases where other treatments have not provided sufficient relief.

Remember, managing hand eczema requires a personalized approach tailored to your specific symptoms and triggers. Working closely with your healthcare provider ensures that you receive the most effective treatment to keep your eczema under control and improve your quality of life. ¹,²

atopic dermatitis, developing hand eczema, painful hands

How to Prevent Eczema Flare-ups

Understanding your eczema triggers is key to preventing flare-ups. Your doctor can assist you in creating a personalised eczema action plan, a tailored guide to managing your condition and reducing the likelihood of flare-ups.

Here are some general strategies your doctor might recommend:

  • Daily Moisturising: Moisturise your skin daily, even when it’s not flaring up. Choose moisturisers without chemical additives that could irritate your eczema.
  • Avoiding Triggers: Identify and avoid substances or situations that trigger your eczema. This might include certain chemicals in cosmetics or detergents.
  • Protecting Your Skin: Avoid activities or products that can damage or dry out your skin. Opt for gentle, fragrance-free alternatives.
  • Moderate Bathing: Take care not to make your baths or showers too hot, as this can dry out your skin. Rinse off chlorine from swimming pools immediately after swimming.
  • Regulate Temperature: Avoid overheating, as excessive heat can exacerbate eczema symptoms.

By following these steps and working closely with your healthcare provider, you can effectively manage your eczema and minimise the frequency and severity of flare-ups.²

When to Seek Professional Help

Consider seeing a dermatologist for hand eczema if your symptoms don’t get better with basic care or if they get worse. This includes more redness, a lot of itching, pain, or signs of infection like swelling or pus. It’s also important to get professional advice if eczema makes it hard to do everyday things or get a good night’s rest. Dermatologists can give you a proper diagnosis and stronger treatments and help determine what triggers your eczema. Getting help early can stop eczema from becoming a bigger problem and help you take better care of your skin.

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Sources

  1. Lund T, Agner T, Veien NK, Johansen JD. The epidemiology of hand eczema in the general population – prevalence and main findings. Contact Dermatitis. 2021;84(6):361-367. doi:10.1111/cod.13804.
  2. Healthdirect. Eczema – symptoms, causes and treatment | healthdirect. healthdirect. Available from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/eczema-symptoms-causes-and-treatment. Accessed June 13, 2024.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this blog is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog. Reliance on any information provided in this blog is solely at your own risk. The health and medical information on this site is provided “as is” without any representations or warranties, express or implied.

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