You notice bumps on your hands or feet. They itch or hurt, and you want to know what they are right away and how you can treat them. Are they symptoms of dyshidrotic eczema, or are they warts?
While your health care provider can make a definitive diagnosis, there are some ways to tell dyshidrotic eczema and warts apart. The two skin conditions may look similar, but they have very different causes and treatments.
Dyshidrotic eczema is a form of eczema that can affect your palms, the soles of your feet, and the sides of your fingers and toes. It’s most common in people aged 20 to 40, and according to Cleveland Clinic, people assigned female at birth are most likely to develop it.
A dyshidrotic eczema outbreak starts with small blisters that can look like little bubbles — which is why the condition is also called “pompholyx,” the Greek word for “bubbles.” These blisters itch, burn, and can be scaly and painful. As they heal, the skin underneath turns red or darkens and the skin splits. “My hands are still sore and splitting,” one MyEczemaTeam member described.
Dyshidrotic eczema is an autoimmune condition, and flares are often triggered by a specific cause. Researchers suspect that around half of dyshidrotic eczema cases result from exposure to an allergen, like laundry detergent or metals such as nickel, through contact or touch.
Other triggers can include:
Determining what sets off your flare-ups can be helpful. As one MyEczemaTeam member said, “Get a list of triggers. I have decreased my exposure and my outbreaks are better.”
Treatment for dyshidrotic eczema often includes at-home skin care. Using warm or cool water to wash the area can help, as can cold compresses and cold soaks for the affected areas.
“I find running cold water and keeping your hands under it helps. It cools the skin,” said one member.
After washing or soaking your hands or feet, thoroughly dry them and if possible, keep them bare.
Wearing loose-fitting shoes like flip-flops or sandals can help reduce skin irritation on your feet. If you need to wear socks, choose natural, nonirritating fibers like cotton or Merino wool. Fragrance-free moisturizers can help treat dry and cracked skin.
Other treatment options include over-the-counter topical corticosteroid treatments and oral antihistamines, which help ease the itching and redness associated with dyshidrotic eczema. For severe cases, a dermatologist might suggest stronger steroids, immunosuppressants, or phototherapy (ultraviolet light).
Common warts are round, rough bumps that often develop where the skin is broken, such as near a bitten fingernail or a picked hangnail. Warts often develop on the hands and feet but, unlike dyshidrotic eczema blisters, can appear on other parts of the body.
Whereas dyshidrotic eczema appears on the palms, warts usually develop on the fingers, around the nails, and on the backs of the hands. In addition, warts on the hands — called common warts — look different from dyshidrotic eczema.
Warts that appear on the soles of the feet are also quite different from dyshidrotic eczema. Called plantar warts, they are often flat or grow inward, due to pressure from being walked on.
Warts often result from a human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. Because they’re caused by a virus, warts are contagious. In contrast, dyshidrotic eczema is an autoimmune disease and can’t be spread to other people. Anyone can get warts, although they’re more likely to affect children, teens, and people with weakened immune systems.
There’s no cure for an HPV infection, but warts themselves often go away on their own. If they don’t, a dermatologist can freeze or burn them away or remove them chemically. Stubborn warts can be treated with lasers, medication injections, or immunotherapy.
Warts are usually benign (harmless), but if you have one that becomes painful, undergoes changes in color or appearance, or becomes a nuisance, or if you have warts that keep coming back, you should speak with your dermatologist or health care provider.
Although warts and dyshidrotic eczema are different conditions, there is a link between the two conditions. Because eczema can cause breaks and wounds in the skin, skin affected by eczema can be more vulnerable to HPV — and therefore, to wart development.
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Have you experienced dyshidrotic eczema outbreaks or warts? How did you treat them? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.