Dyshidrotic Eczema

Medically Reviewed by Zilpah Sheikh, MD on April 21, 2024
5 min read

Dyshidrotic eczema is a sudden rash of small, itchy blisters on your palms and along the sides of your fingers. This skin condition can also make blisters pop up on the soles of your feet or on your toes.

Your doctor might call it by other names, including dyshidrosis, foot-and-hand eczema, pompholyx, vesicular eczema, or palmoplantar eczema.

Can dyshidrotic eczema be cured?

There’s no cure, so these blisters can keep coming back. But you can manage them with medicine, moisturizers, and good hygiene. They might start to subside once you get into middle age. And if you have a mild case, it could go away on its own.

Dyshidrotic eczema blisters

The small, itchy blisters are the most noticeable sign of dyshidrotic eczema. These usually pop up in clusters. You may also have:

  • Itching or a burning pain before blisters appear
  • Blisters on the edges of your fingers, toes, palms, and soles of your feet
  • Red, cracked skin
  • Sweaty skin around the blisters
  • Nails that thicken and change colors

The blisters often go away in 2-3 weeks. But the skin underneath can be red and tender for a while.

Dyshidrotic eczema can be mild or serious. If you have a serious case that affects your feet, the blisters can make it hard to walk. Blisters on your hands can make it hard to do things such as cooking, typing, or washing dishes.

Sometimes, the blisters can get infected, especially if you scratch them a lot. Signs that you have an infection include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Crusting
  • Pus in the blisters

Doctors aren’t sure what causes dyshidrotic eczema. It mostly affects adults aged 20-40, and you're more likely to get it if you have allergies such as hay fever, a family history of dyshidrotic eczema, or other forms of eczema

About half of all people with dyshidrotic eczema also have other types of eczema, such as contact and atopic dermatitis. This condition isn't contagious. You can't catch it from touching someone who has it.

Family history

While doctors don't know precisely what causes dyshidrotic eczema, it often runs in families, which suggests it might be genetic.

Dyshidrotic eczema in women

This condition is twice as common in women as in men.

What can trigger dyshidrotic eczema?

Several things can set off dyshidrotic eczema, including:

  • Stress
  • Contact with metals such as nickel, cobalt, or chromium salts on your job or from things such as costume jewelry
  • Sweaty or wet hands and feet
  • Warm, humid weather
  • HIV infection
  • Certain treatments for a weak immune system (immunoglobulin)
  • Seasonal allergies

No lab test can confirm that you have dyshidrotic eczema, but if you notice blisters on your hands and feet, see a dermatologist (a doctor who specializes in your skin). They’ll look at your hands and feet, as well as your nails. Your doctor could also suggest tests to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms, such as athlete’s foot.

You also might need to see an allergy doctor (allergist). Patch tests can show if you have an allergy to nickel or another metal. During these tests, your doctor will put patches with a small amount of different metals or other things on your skin to see whether you react to them.

Dyshidrotic eczema treatment cream

Your doctor can prescribe an ointment or cream containing steroids or ceramides to ease swelling and get rid of the blisters. Your skin will take in the medicine better if you put a wet compress on it after you use the cream. If you have a severe flare-up, you might need to take a steroid drug, such as prednisone, in a pill.

An antihistaminesuch as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) or loratadine (Alavert, Claritin) can help with the itch, too. You might also apply a cold, wet compress to the blisters for 15 minutes at a time several times a day.

If these treatments don't work well for you, you might try one of these:

  • Light therapy. This uses ultraviolet (UV) light to clear up your skin. You might first get a sensitizing medication to help your skin respond better to the light.
  • Botulinum toxin. These shots stop your hands and feet from sweating, which can trigger the blisters.
  • Medicines that slow your immune system. Tacrolimus (Protopic) ointment or pimecrolimus (Elidel) cream can calm the swelling and irritation. These drugs can be options if you don't want to take steroids.

Draining dyshidrotic eczema blisters

Your dermatologist can drain fluid from the blisters. Don't try to do this yourself, as it could make your eczema worse.

Managing dyshidrotic eczema at home

To control the blisters at home:

  • Wash your hands and feet every day. Use lukewarm water and a mild, scent-free soap. Afterward, gently pat your skin dry.
  • Take your rings off before you wash your hands. Moisture can get trapped under your rings and cause more blisters.
  • Wear gloves with cotton liners whenever your hands come into contact with water, such as while washing dishes.
  • Put a thick moisturizer on your hands and feet every time you shower or wash. Rub it on while your skin is still wet to seal in water. You also might use a cream that has dimethicone to protect your skin.
  • Turn on a humidifier in dry weather to keep your skin from cracking.
  • If allergies set off your eczema, try to stay away from things that trigger them.
  • Don't scratch the blisters. You'll make them worse.

Dermatologists suggest avoiding direct contact with items that contain high levels of nickel or cobalt, such as jewelry, clothing fasteners, or tools, to avoid skin irritation or allergic reactions.

Dyshidrotic eczema is a skin condition that causes itchy blisters on the palms, fingers, feet, and toes. It can also lead to red, cracked skin and changes in nail appearance. While there's no cure, treatments such as creams with steroids, antihistamines, or light therapy can help manage symptoms. Good hygiene, moisturizing, and avoiding triggers can also help control flare-ups.

What happens if dyshidrotic eczema is left untreated?

If left untreated, the condition could worsen or get better on its own.