Hand dermatitis is also known as hand eczema. This common skin condition can occur at any age, including childhood. Symptoms of hand dermatitis can range from mild to severe, where it can be long lasting and flare from time to time. It is important to say that hand dermatitis/eczema is not contagious.
Risks – Hand Eczmea can result from a combination of factors:
- Genetics – If you have or previously had atopic eczema in childhood or there is a family history of eczema.
- Those who work in jobs with frequent water contact.
- In many cases sometimes the cause is unknown and there is no trigger.
The skin acts as a barrier preventing water loss, as well as entry of irritants such as soap, or allergens such as the house dust mite. In healthy skin, the skin barrier can be imagined as a brick wall, with the skin cells as the bricks and the body’s natural oils surrounding these ‘bricks’ as ‘mortar’.
If these natural oils (mortar) are removed by soaps, detergents, harsh chemicals and repeated contact with water, the skin barrier structure weakens and this may result in the skin becoming dry and cracked. This is called irritant contact dermatitis.
Further exposure to allergens such as perfumes, rubber or leather can also cause dermatitis in people with an allergy or sensitivity to a particular substance. These substances may cause the immune system to react and result in the skin becoming red and itchy.
Common substances may include cosmetic ingredients, hair dyes, fragrances, cement, nickel, rubber, plants and glues. This is called allergic contact dermatitis.
Signs and symptoms
The skin is dry and chapped with areas of red, itchy, scaly, and sometimes swollen skin. If there are cracked areas (fissures), they may bleed and ooze. When the skin is in contact with irritants it may sting or burn. Sometimes small water blisters can appear on the palms or the sides of the fingers. Different areas of the hands can be affected and there are different patterns of hand dermatitis which can change over time in one person.
Speak to your healthcare provider to get a diagnosis on your specific condition which may be an important step so that you can determine what might be causing your hand dermatitis/eczema and what ways there are to manage and treat your symptoms. In some cases, hand dermatitis/eczema can have a profound effect on everyday living and the person’s quality of life.
- Related: More information about eczema
- Related: ISF Contributes to Irish Independent’s ‘Skin & Dermatology’ Supplement
- Related: Thank you to all who answered the “Living with Atopic Eczema” survey
Twelve Self-Help Tips for Hand Eczema
1: When washing your hands, use lukewarm water and a soap substitute such as emulsifying ointment or Silcocks base. If your hands are dirty, use a non-perfumed soap, sparingly and rinse thoroughly. Then dry your hands, especially between the fingers and then apply your emollient.
2: Rings often aggravate dermatitis by trapping irritating materials beneath them. Remove your rings when doing house work and before washing your hands.
3: Emollients should be applied several times every day and are essential part of your long-term skincare regime, even when your skin is clear.
4: Topical steroids may be prescribed for flare-ups of hand dermatitis/eczema; these should be applied as directed by your healthcare professional.
5: Protect your hands from direct contact with soaps, detergents, irritating chemicals by wearing waterproof, cotton lined gloves.
6: Foods can irritate the surface of the skin. Wear waterproof gloves while peeling and squeezing citrus fruits, peeling or chopping potatoes, tomatoes, garlic and chillies.
7: Use washing machines and dishwashers when possible. If you do not have a dishwasher, perhaps a family member can do the dishes.
8: Wear heavy duty gloves when doing heavy work and gardening. Also wear cotton gloves when carrying out dry house work.
9: When outdoors in cold windy weather, wear warm gloves to protect your hands from drying and chapping.
10: Avoid any skin contact with paints, paint thinners, turpentine and glues. Also if you have to use polishes for furniture, floors, metal and shoes, wear heavy duty gloves to protect your hands.
11: Do not apply hair dye, hair lotions/creams with bare hands.
12: If you think your hand dermatitis/eczema is affected by something at work, discuss this with your occupational health department or your healthcare professional.