Pompholyx (dyshidrotic eczema) is a type of eczema that causes tiny blisters to develop across the fingers, palms of the hands and sometimes the soles of the feet.
It can affectÂ people of any age, but it's most often seen in adults under 40.
Pompholyx can sometimes be confused withÂ similar-looking conditions.
See a GP if you have any sort of blistering skin condition.
Pompholyx usually starts as intense itching and burning of the skin on theÂ hands and fingers.
The palms and sides of the fingers (and sometimes the soles of the feet) then erupt into tiny itchy blisters that may weep fluid.
In severe cases, the blisters may be quite large and may spread to the backs of the hands, feet and limbs.
The skinÂ can sometimes become infected. Signs of an infection can include the blisters becoming very painful and oozing pus or becoming covered in a golden crust.
The blisters will usually heal within a few weeks. The skin tends to become dry and crack or peel as it starts to heal.
It's not clear exactly what causes pompholyx, but it may be triggered or made worse by:
- aÂ fungal skin infection â€“ this may be on the hands or at a distant site from the blisters (such as in between the toes) and will need treating
- a reaction to something that has touched your skin â€“ such as certain metals (particularly nickel), detergents, household chemicals, soap, shampoo, cosmetic products or perfume
- sweating â€“ pompholyx is more common in spring and summer, in warmer climates, and inÂ people with excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis)
How long does it last?
In many cases, pompholyxÂ will clear up on its own within a fewÂ weeks. The treatments below may help relieve your symptoms in the meantime.
SometimesÂ pompholyx may just occur once and never come back, but it often comes and goes over several months or years. Any of the triggers mentioned above can cause it to flare up again.
Occasionally,Â pompholyx can beÂ moreÂ continuous andÂ difficult to treat.
You should try to avoid contact with anything that might irritate your skin, including soaps, shampoosÂ and other household chemicals.
Use an emollient as a soap substitute and wear cotton-lined gloves when you're at risk of contact with other potentially irritating substances, such as when washing your hair or doing housework.
Do not burst the blisters. Let them heal on their own. If they're particularly big, your GP may be able to drain them.
The main treatments your GP may recommend to treat the symptoms of pompholyx are similar to those used when treating atopic eczema, including:
- emollients (moisturisers)Â â€“ use these all the timeÂ and instead of soapÂ to stop your skin becoming dry
- steroid creamÂ â€“Â this reduces the inflammation and irritation and helps the skin heal
Your GP will probably prescribe a strong steroid cream to use for a short period of time to minimise the risk of steroid side effects.
You may be advised to wear cotton gloves at night to help the cream sink into the skin.
You can also try:
- soaking your hands in a dilute solution of potassium permanganate (1:10,000) for 10 to 15 minutesÂ once or twice a day for up to 5 days
- antihistaminesÂ to relieve the itching and help you sleep ifÂ the itchiness is keeping you awake at night
These treatments areÂ available from pharmacies without a prescription. Your pharmacist can advise whether they're suitable for you and how you should use them.
Antibiotics may be prescribed if your skin becomes infected.
If yourÂ pompholyx keeps returning or is severe and does not get better with the above treatments, your GP may refer you to a specialist in treating skin conditions (dermatologist).
A dermatologist mayÂ recommend 1 of the following treatments:
- phototherapy â€“ controlled exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light
- steroid tabletsÂ or very strong steroid cream
- immunosuppressantÂ creams or ointments, such as pimecrolimusÂ or tacrolimus
- immunosuppressantÂ tablets or capsules,Â such as ciclosporin or azathioprine
- alitretinoinÂ capsules â€“Â medicine that helps improve severe eczema affecting the hands when other treatments have not worked
SimilarÂ skin conditions
Conditions that can look similar to pompholyx include:
- bullous impetigoÂ â€“Â a contagious skin infection that mainly affects children and causes sores and blisters
- bullous pemphigoidÂ â€“Â a blistering skinÂ condition that tends to affect the elderlyÂ
- contact dermatitisÂ â€“ a type of eczema caused byÂ skin contact with a substance that causes irritation or an allergic reactionÂ
- hand, foot and mouth diseaseÂ â€“ a viral infection that mainly affects young children, which can cause small blisters to develop on the fingers and palms of the hands
- herpetic whitlow (whitlow finger)Â â€“ a collection of pus (abscess) at the end of the fingerÂ that can cause it to become suddenly red, swollen, painful and blistered
- pustular psoriasisÂ â€“Â an uncommon type of psoriasis that causes pus-filled blisters to appear on your skin