A Tale of Pain and Suffering
My hands have always been wonderfully soft and smooth, despite the fact that I work in a job that requires frequent hand-washing. I always assumed it was because I took great care of my skin. I moisturise whenever I have the chance, and I always try to make my own lotions and skin creams, using the best quality organic essential oils.
Admittedly, I am a bit of a product junkie, so I figured my skin was well tolerant to chemicals and preservatives (either that or over-sensitised)! Some of those long ingredient lists are simply horrendous. Anyway, I digress . . .
It was about six months ago that I decided to change jobs; I started working in a busy hospital where the shifts were long and stressful. It was then that I started to develop a small, bumpy rash on my middle and index finger. I always get this rash when my skin comes into contact with cheap jewellery (nickel), so I knew it was an allergic reaction to something. It was weird, though, that it developed only on my left hand and nowhere else.
At first, I figured it was the brand of hospital soap, so I decided to bring a different brand of soap with me—one that I have never had an allergy to in the past. To my disappointment, my skin continued to get worse. It really started to concern me because I couldn’t determine a cause.
I started to ask some of my colleagues about their hands—I was shocked to see that most of their hands were bad, too. Nobody seemed to know the real reason, other than the fact they suffered from severe contact dermatitis. “Maybe it’s the gloves,” someone said. Out of the question, I thought! I wear latex dresses; how could it possibly be that! Someone else suggested the rough paper hand towels. They did have a point; they are cheap and probably packed with chemicals.
When my allergy symptoms were really bad, the one and only thing that offered me relief was taking a dose of Piriton (also known as an over-the-counter antihistamine called chlorpheniramine maleate). Seriously, that stuff is amazing. Much better than any other antihistamine I have tried.
Moisturising with beeswax and jojoba oil also seemed to soothe my irritated, blistered skin for a little while. I had always avoided products like aqueous cream because it has a tendency to thin the skin by as much as 10% over a period of time, not to mention the fact it is packed with cheap mineral oil and sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS), which is a skin irritant. It was a miserable experience; my skin condition began to dictate my life and personal hygiene routine. Soon, I couldn’t even bend my fingers without excruciating pain.
On top of the embarrassment, I started to worry about what other people thought of my hideous hands—they probably thought I had some contagious disease. That’s all a patient needs to worry about in a hospital!
A Reaction to Nitrile?
I had a long hard think about the things my hands come into contact with on a typical day at work. It wasn’t until I was restocking the gloves cupboard that I happened to read the side of the gloves box; it read “latex-free nitrile gloves”! That’s when I became suspicious. My last job supplied vinyl and latex gloves; my hands never reacted to those.
As soon as I got home, I contacted my occupational health department. They said it’s rare for people to have an allergic reaction to nitrile itself, hence the reason why they phased out the latex gloves in the first place. However, it is the additional chemicals (accelerator chemicals) and dyes added in the gloves manufacturing process which cause skin sensitivity in some people.
The side effect of these chemicals can be the cause of skin conditions such as contact dermatitis and pompholyx eczema, severe itching, and blistering of the skin, often found between the fingers! I knew I was onto something here because that’s exactly what my symptoms were.
I was then told the allergic reaction can develop for up to 72 hours after initial contact with nitrile gloves. To my horror, adding barrier creams and moisturisers actually aggravate the condition because it pushes these harmful allergens deeper into the skin!
Getting Tested for Allergies
At this point, I was so angry and confused but also relieved. To think that I had been suffering unnecessarily for all these months and to be told to use steroid creams by my doctor. I will tell you now, no matter what you put on your skin, it will not eliminate the allergy itself—that’s probably why so many people with this painful skin condition find steroid creams useless; simply offering nothing more than temporary relief.
Read More From Patientslounge
The good news is, these types of allergies can be tested and confirmed (I later found out that it was something else). Once you know for sure what the cause is, you can stay far, far away from it. For those of you who don’t wear these kinds of gloves, I highly recommend getting allergy tested for other substances and foods that you come into contact with on a daily basis.
Adult-Onset Food Allergies
Because I work in health care, I have no choice but to wear hand protection. That is why cotton liners are great—they slip under the nitrile gloves perfectly.
Over a few weeks/months, my hands gradually became a lot better, but they were not completely healed. I couldn't understand why it was taking so long.
Months later, I received the biggest shock of all: I discovered I had developed adult food allergies to dairy and lemons! It changed everything for me. All this time, I had been blaming the gloves when actually I had a silent food allergy brewing. I never saw it coming.
When I cut those foods out of my diet, my hands made a complete recovery. The nitrile gloves basically added to the skin irritation, presumably because they made my hands hot and sweaty. If I hadn't used the cotton glove liners, the inflammation would probably still be there to this day. I was simply stuck in a "healing crisis" that I couldn't get out of.
Several months later, after all traces of inflammation had disappeared, I can actually wear nitrile gloves without liners for the first time. Zero inflammation (unless I lapse and have a sneaky piece of chocolate—then I get another flare-up). Chlorpheniramine maleate keeps this under control, though.
This article is intended for informational purposes only.
Please visit an experienced, qualified dermatologist for advice and diagnosis. If you don’t get the answers you need, try another until you do.
Never Give Up Hope
When I suffered from pompholyx eczema, I was frustrated and confused. Nobody knew why I was suffering but I had faith in myself that I would find a cure, eventually.
Don't let people tell you that this condition is untreatable. For me, a newly developed food allergy was the root cause all along. I can't explain why the skin does this, nor can I explain why it shows up on the hands or in weird little patches. All I can suggest is that you create a food diary to start with.
If you are not allergic to something you are eating, chances are you have touched something that you are allergic or sensitive to. Do a little detective work and good luck!
This is a great information resource for dyshidrosis. Worth a read.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Anky on July 27, 2018:
Yes, yes, yes. Diet without milk cured me.
Karen, from Michigan on March 12, 2018:
I also have had dyshidrotic dermatitis for over 40 years is worked in the nursing profession and it started in my later twenties. I had seen a six different dematoligests and two allergests over the years allergic to nickel and latex I have used numerous script creams over the years and gotten gloves it would always come back my newest dematoligests is staying on top of it I took a mega dose of steroids last year , gained 15 pounds had the moon face and hands cleared up so he tapered me off came right back ,used isotopic seam a whopping $180 copay didn't work so now on methotrexate 20 mg once a week lab once month,before next dose done this for six months now great results, no bumps no terrible itching use halobestasol point. And eucrisa oint. once a day and serve oint. throughout the day this has been wonderful hands haven't been like this, normal in forty years!!
China on December 27, 2017:
From the bottom of my heart, I want to say thank you for writing this article about your trials and tribulations with ezcema. I'm so sorry you had to go through everything you did. I too had my share of the awfulness that is called dyshydrotic ezcema. It started on the top of my right middle finger, slowly spreading its wrath down and around my finger. As the months progressed, it began to slowly spread across to the other fingers. My events were no where near as agonizing as yours must have been but they were agonizing nonetheless. If my finger wasn't itching like mad (did you ever feel like amputation may have been a possible option?) it was burning like hell. I spent sleepless nights slowly being driven insane. I didnt have the money to go to an allergist so like most people, I turned towards Google. I'll admit, I didn't find your story until months down the line and I went from one story to the next - swapping out our detergent, hand soap, shampoo, conditioner, adding water filters on water faucets - nothing worked. And then I found your story and it clicked - milk. I remember my folks told me I'd have a rash anytime I ate parmesan cheese but I figured I outgrew the reaction. Needless to say, I cut out all forms of dairy and within a week, my finger began to heal. Its been a few months and I'm back to a normal and glorious hand. ✋
Lana on December 22, 2017:
I too developed this menace after beginning a career in nursing. Six months in and I would cry at the thought of having to put my hands anywhere near anything. I struggled with that impossible itch for 10 years. Even after switching to a non threatening desk job, it persisted. Doctor prescribed topical creams etc but most of them just made it worse.
In about the 7th year I went thru a bit of financial trouble. It got SO much worse. I would irrationally angry at people who could just wash their dishes without any hesitation, and even contemplated cutting my hands off. I had gotten used to them being bound in bandages to stop me scratching that I figured I could deal with a hand less existence.
One dermo even told me of akilling possible "cure". Unfortunately it also caused cancer in many of the recipient's. Still, I have it waaaay more thought than I should have, just for an itch free, albeit shortened, existence.
So during this period of financial stress I just assumed that the problem was exactly that, more stress, worse hand. But I was living on a gluten rich diet. Every meal was pasta because it was cheap and filling and to distract my kids taste buds I would bake.... a lot. And of course I ate all that gluteny goodness as well.
Financial stress eased with a new job, hands eased off but still were as bad as the pre stress era. Then my sister, on her latest health kick, talked me into a gluten free diet. Me being the supportive sister I am gave it the obligatory 1 month (about how long my sister sticks to any new fad). By the end of the month I noticed a notable improvement on my hands. I still had flair ups between my fingers and around the tips, but no longer had any on my palms. Stoked! I've kept up the gluten free diet sort of, I'll still have a sandwich or slice of cake occasionally, and I still get the odd flair up now and again.
I combat these with vinegar or hand sanitiser. The stuff in the skin bubbles is an acid, which is why it itches. Vinegar is alkaline so it neutralizes, and hand sanitiser is neutral so it helps when you're on the go, you just have to use it more often.
I can also use a facial cream again as long as I remember to rinse my hands thoroughly after. I hand been able to moisturize my face in years. Same with washing the dishes. I can do it again but I have to rinse my hands for about 5 minutes under water after I'm done to remove any residual soap.
I also have to avoid any products with aloe Vera. Usually soothing but for my hands, it's an irritant.
It's taken three years but I have finally developed a routine that sees me only getting a flair up every few months, and it usually from too many pieces of cake.
I definitely recommend doing an elimination diet to see if anything you eat is a contributing factor. And I hope one day you'll all be pompholyx free.
Yours in perpetual itching
Charly Dickens on November 27, 2017:
Naturally, you have to avoid the worst external triggers / allergens. But we can still get this unbearable itching, the following scratching & rubbing, the aggravated histamine reaction, then the resultant blistering etc...
1) To instantly stop the maddening itching, over the relevant spot(s) apply heat of a hair dryer until you just cannot longer bear it -without actually burning yourself. The trick is to use a penetrating heat, over several seconds; so don't use too high a heat. Alleviation can last for hours. (You may aim to get some weird -not unpleasant- "wave" getting up your limb -total end of all itching.)
2) When the damage has been done, and the healing wounds start to crack and become VERY painful, apply a well sticking "paper" plaster, This allows breathing, is a barrier to irritants and the oxygen prevents many infections, but at the same time it stops the pain that comes from the wounds' cracking. (E.g. TENDERSKIN Hypoallergenic Paper Tape. 3M have a very good, thinner (pink) paper tape like Micropore.)
For me, I found the above two measures "life changing" and turned an impossible hell into a mere "inconvenience".
And it WILL pass.
Gi on October 14, 2017:
Will try stop consuming lemons and dairy and see if i am allergic to it. Ive been consuming lemons non-stop and had this breakout on my feet :(
Ankyheal123 on September 15, 2017:
I was suffering from pompholyx for about 16yrs. Thankfully it didn't spread to my hands however was just switching between figures.
Here is how it get cured. I do not know whether this will cure others or not but it worked for me.
I have quit everything that is made up of milk including milk. for eg biscuits, ice-cream, chocolates etc... now I do not have even a single blister.
Hope this helps.
Ankur on September 04, 2017:
I was suffering from this for almost 16 yes and it was shifting between fingers.
I have quit all milk related products and with God,''s grace I am cured.
Milk, biscuit.... Chocolates etc... I did this for about 1month and this worked.... But I think it can come back if I start having milk products.
So now I m not having these....
Hope this helps...
Sarahthompson02@hotmail.com on August 14, 2017:
I read you post and it was incredibly informative. You state that pathogenic microbes upsetting the immune system is what causes dyshidrotic eczema, how does someone begin to rectify this and help their body fight the eczema??
Jay on August 07, 2017:
Hi laura i have also been struggling with this for years now doctors kept on giving me creams but it never helped it would never completely dissapear and it just kept on coming back. Personally im someone with a few allergies . How do you find out specifically what causes your skin to react like this
Sanne on July 24, 2017:
I get eczemas like that if I eat anything that contains the preservative CITRIC ACID. Citric acid is made from the mold spores of Aspilligius Niger and it's in so much food, even organic food. So if anyone have this problem, try to cut out citric acid. My hands heal fully in 2 weeks and now if I ear anything with it I have a flare up.
Laura (author) from West Sussex on July 21, 2017:
Hello Maureen, I am so happy to hear that your skin is healing. It can take a long time for the inflammation to disappear (several months in some instances) so it is worth persevering with. Once your skin is healed, you could try different gloves perhaps i.e vinyl? Some nitrile gloves are laced with chemicals during the manufacturing process so look out for 'accelerator free' on the box. It is also worth noting that gloves can aggravate symptoms without being the actual cause. For example, an underlying food allergy can cause the initial rash but the gloves can exacerbate it. Thanks for getting in touch!
Obmn on July 19, 2017:
When I first noticed the spots on my hand; I was so worried that it won't go off. I researched all the internet about dyshidrosis and I found out that it does not stay permanently; and it did not. It lasted for 3 weeks just exactly all the clinic pages stated. I did not know the cause but I assumed it was because of excessive amount of caffein or tea. So I stopped drinking coffe and tea. But it did not changed a thing. So if you are reading this the only advice that I can give you don't get frustrated because it will go off eventually. If you be patient and most importantly hydrate your body (shower) by the help of humidity the spots(dead skin cells) will start to peel. Instead of trying vinegar,aloe vera etc. for the cure, if you be patient and calm I think you would speed up your healing process. Otherwise if you have any allergy for the cures that you have been trying you may trigger heavier atopic excema and consequences would be much worse. SO KEEP CALM AND HYDRATE YOUR BODY.
Maureen on July 18, 2017:
You just saved my life. Mine looked just like yours and it started when I had to take of an elderly and had to wear gloves all the time. I thought I had contracted something and all this while it was the gloves. I just got the cotton liners a few days ago and my hands are making a great recovery. It had taken over my entire hand and was spreading to my wrists. I was getting depressed and embarrassed because of it. Thank you soooooo much.
Maddy on July 17, 2017:
I got Pompholyx for the first time when i was 6 years old. My parents took me to countless different doctors and everyone diagnosed it as a different thing from impetigo to contact dermatitis. We got countless different steroid creams that were horrible to use... eventually it just cleared up on its own and with some natural hand cream. I just came to deal with the embarrassing flare-ups every 6 months or so as a part of my life...
When I moved out of home I decided to investigate the issue for myself and found 2 things that really helped me:
1. If you have a break out, soak your hands in apple cider vinegar mixed with water for 10-15 minutes at a time.
2. I completely agree, this condition is cased by an allergy and can be cured by finding out what it is. For me it is sugar. Without a doubt. If I eat excessive amounts of sugar, I will start to get a tiny break out. As soon as this happens I stop all sugar immediately and it clears up. I can't even remember the last time I had a noticeable break-out but it is at least 5 years.
I know how horrible it is when you have a break out, you just want to hide in a corner so i'm telling you don't give up! Just find out what you're allergic to, cos it's something.
Mirela on July 02, 2017:
I've been dealing with this for a very long time. Celiac was causing it in my case, as far as I determined. I get blisters now and then ( I have to wash my hand pretty often at work and the job involves chemical testing) , but they don't get as bad as they used to. I used to have the pitting nails as well. This is a very good article! Thank you
Maryam on June 24, 2017:
Do you have pitting nails too?
Carolethecatlover@hotmail.com on June 22, 2017:
This is the best available information as at 1st JANUARY 2017
Dyshidrosis (also known as Dyshidrotic eczema or Pompholyx,) is small, fluid-filled blisters on the palms and fingers of the hands in 80% of sufferers, or the soles of the feet in 10%, with another 10% having the minute vesicles 'blisters' on both hands and feet. Usually the condition starts on the interdigital skin of the ring finger and spreads to the glabeous skin of the palms and the soles. This special skin has more sweat glands, more pressure receptors, and histamine receptors. It is not unknown for ordinary skin on the arms and other parts of the body to have the vesicles.
When it is on parts of the body other than the hands and feet it is usually, tho' not always caused by contact with a substance that excites, irritates and annoys the body's immune system and usually appears within minutes of contact. This is Contact Dermatitis.
Dyshidrosis proper, affecting the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet only, comes on slowly, starting with a few itchy blisters which increase in number and itchiness for no apparent reason.. Once the blisters dry, cracks form in the skin which can be unsightly and very painful. This is Delayed or type IV response to an allergen.
GPs frequently misdiagnose Dyshidrosis as Contact Dermatitis.
Causes of dyshidrosis
If it is dyshidrosis, and not contact dermatitis, the root cause in all cases is the 'Id reaction' . The 'id' is short for 'dermatiphid' or 'dermatophyte' and the reaction is a histamine reaction (or allergic reaction) to the dermatophyte. The problem is finding the dermatophyte, which is usually a fungus or a yeast or a mold. It may be a bacterium or a virus, which are technically NOT dermatophytes. If a person has Athlete's foot, caused by any one of a number of tineas, which are fungi, then curing the Athlete's foot will cure the dyshidrosis.