Do you have itchy hands and feet with tiny fluid-filled blisters? This may be a sign of a type of eczema called dyshidrotic eczema — also called pompholyx or dyshidrosis. The blisters that come with the condition aren’t just irritating — they can sometimes be debilitating.
“This is the bottom of my foot! I have tried everything!” shared one member of MyEczemaTeam, along with a photo of their skin. “I can’t even walk sometimes.”
Another added, “It’s on my palms too, dyshidrotic eczema. I am seeing a dermatologist but it’s very slowly resolving. So frustrating!”
People with dyshidrotic eczema sometimes wonder whether popping their blisters is safe or not. Though it’s natural to think doing so might bring relief, health care experts recommend against popping them. Here’s what you need to know about dyshidrotic eczema — including why you shouldn’t pop your blisters and what you should do instead.
Dyshidrotic eczema is characterized by blisters that form on and around your hands and feet, including around the edges of your fingers and toes. These can itch and burn, and they may even feel like you’re being pricked by tiny needles everywhere there’s a blister.
“I’m stressed. I suffer from dyshidrotic eczema. It’s aggravating and itchy, and forms blisters,” one member wrote.
Another said, “Right now my fingers are dry and cracked and itchy. And it’s painful when moving them.”
Dyshidrotic eczema looks like a rash. It can itch and burn deep within the skin. When you look at the rash more closely, you’ll notice it’s made of a series of tiny blisters, called vesicles. These will usually go away within two to three weeks, leaving the skin to peel. Deep cracks can appear in the dry skin as it heals, which can also be painful and require treatment.
No one knows what causes this skin condition, though scientists believe it's tied to factors including:
However, anyone can get dyshidrotic eczema at any time.
Researchers aren’t certain how common dyshidrotic eczema is because it can easily be mistaken for another skin condition, and people who experience it only once or twice often don’t go to the doctor for treatment.
Of reported cases, dyshidrotic eczema makes up between 5 percent and 20 percent of cases of dermatitis affecting the hands. This does not account for cases when dyshidrotic eczema shows up on the feet. You’re more likely to get it if you have already been diagnosed with another form of eczema (like atopic dermatitis, the most common form of eczema), though it’s unclear exactly how much greater your risk is.
One way to help dyshidrotic eczema heal is to avoid popping the itchy blisters. Tempting though it may be — especially when all you want to do is scratch your skin — the risks of bursting your blisters are greater than any rewards.
The skin covering the blister is actually still protecting you, even when it’s itching like crazy. Scratching and irritating that layer of skin will leave you more vulnerable to infections. In fact, skin infections are common in areas of dyshidrotic eczema. When the skin naturally heals, it can crack open. There’s no reason to expose yourself to additional bacterial exposure by scratching open the blisters prematurely.
If you see signs of an infection, like swelling, skin turning a deep red or a dark purple color, or pus oozing from the area, talk to your doctor right away. They should be able to get you the antibiotic you need to fight the infection and heal.
Open wounds take longer to heal than compared to skin left to go through its natural healing process, especially if you develop infections or other complications. Cover the affected areas, treat them with moisturizer, and use a topical anti-itch cream to avoid scratching open the blisters and having to contend with them for even longer.
Anytime you have an open wound in your skin, you risk scarring. If you scratch open the affected area regularly, you are more likely to experience scarring there. If the area gets infected, it may be even more likely to scar. Avoid all of this by trying not to scratch dyshidrotic eczema blisters.
If you scratch regularly, the skin in that area can become thicker and look different than the rest of your skin. This is your skin’s defense against scratching. If you can’t avoid scratching, talk to your doctor to find an effective anti-itch regimen so your skin can heal.
The best thing you can do to manage dyshidrotic eczema is to find your triggers and avoid them. MyEczemaTeam members have taken this approach. One explained, “Anyone with dyshidrotic eczema notice a heat/sweat trigger? Especially for the soles of the feet?”
Another added, “I looked up dyshidrotic eczema and got a list of triggers. As I have decreased my exposure, my outbreaks are better.”
Regularly using a moisturizer on your skin is one of the most important steps you can take to help dyshidrotic eczema heal. The moisturizer you use should be free from the chemicals most likely to trigger allergic reactions, including scents, dyes, fragrances, and alcohol. They should also be designed for application when your skin is damp, which will help it absorb more moisture.
If you have to be in contact with substances that you know can trigger a dyshidrotic eczema flare-up, wear gloves. The best ones will be lined with cotton, to further protect your skin, but wearing any gloves you’re not allergic to is better than making direct contact with these substances.
If stress seems to trigger dyshidrotic eczema for you, take steps to reduce your stress levels. This can be easier said than done, but there several stress-reduction techniques that you can use — even if you are very busy and cannot take anything off your plate.
If your dyshidrotic eczema isn’t going away, is getting worse, or is interfering with your ability to work, study, or sleep, talk to your dermatologist. There are a wide variety of treatment options, like topical corticosteroids, and your doctor may be able to help you figure out which one is right for you. Some are available over the counter, while others will require a prescription.
On MyEczemaTeam, the social network for people with eczema and their loved ones, more than 49,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with eczema.
Are you wondering what to do about your dyshidrotic eczema blisters? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.