What is Hand Eczema?

Allison Boelcke

Hand eczema is a condition that affects the skin on the hands. It can cause episodes of severe drying and itching of the skin on the hands that may come and go periodically. Although the condition does not have a long-term cure, there are measures that may be taken to prevent flare-ups of the symptoms and to treat any discomfort when it does occur.

A cream for treating hand eczema.
A cream for treating hand eczema.

The symptoms of hand eczema generally begin with itching of the hands. The itching then will usually develop into patches of extremely dry, red skin. These itchy patches may become cracked or swollen, or they may leak clear fluid, a symptom commonly referred to as weeping. If the symptoms become severe enough, they may cause complications, such as infection or other skin injuries as a result of aggressive scratching. The condition may also interfere with everyday activities, such as interrupting sleep, due to the constant itching sensation.

Eczema is a dry skin condition that can affect various places on the body, including the hands.
Eczema is a dry skin condition that can affect various places on the body, including the hands.

Hand eczema may have a variety of causes. People who had allergies, hay fever, or other types of skin inflammation as children tend to be at a higher risk of developing the condition. It can also be the result of environmental factors, such as constant exposure of the hands to irritating substances, or light but constant physical trauma of the hands, such as hauling wood or digging with a shovel for a living.

Those who have a higher likelihood of developing hand eczema, or those who have had occurrences of it in the past, can take certain precautions to prevent episodes of the condition from happening. If a person knows he or she is going to be exposing his or her hands to irritating chemicals, such as from solvents or harsh soaps, wearing gloves may offer some protection. Avoiding cosmetic products containing fragrances can also prevent irritation that can cause skin flare-ups on the hands. Petroleum jelly or other thick moisturizers with low water content is generally recommended to be applied to the hands regularly, especially after handling chemicals, getting the hands wet, or performing physical work with the hands, in order to soothe and protect the skin.

During the times when flare-ups of hand eczema occur, treatment options may be available to relieve symptoms. The most common treatment tends to be topical corticosteroids to reduce the inflammation that leads to itching. If topical corticosteroids make symptoms worse or causes other side, a doctor may recommend non-corticosteroid topical medications instead.

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