We include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Here’s our process.

Dyshidrotic eczema is a common form of eczema. Doctors refer to this condition as pompholyx, the Greek word for “bubble”. It causes a person to develop small, itchy blisters on the fingers, toes, palms, or soles of the feet.

An editorial image of feet in blue socks on a dotted bedspread suggestive of dyshidrotic eczema, which can have symptoms of bubble-like blisters on the feetShare on Pinterest
Catherine Falls Commercial/Getty Images

Doctors also refer to this type of eczema as foot-and-hand or palmoplantar eczema, based on where symptoms appear.

This article will look at the symptoms of dyshidrotic eczema, along with its causes and treatment.

Dyshidrotic eczema causes small, watery blisters to appear that are often itchy and can be painful. These blisters look different from other types.

Symptoms usually appear on the palms or the edges of the fingers, or the soles of the feet or toes. People may also experience sweating, itching, or a burning feeling around the blisters.

Dyshidrotic eczema blisters tend to go away within 3–4 weeks. The skin generally becomes dry and cracks or peels as it starts to heal.

In severe cases, the blisters may be quite large and spread to the backs of the hands, feet, and limbs. The condition is not contagious to others.

On light skin, eczema patches tend to appear red. In People of Color, eczema can cause patches that are darker brown, purple, or gray. The affected areas may be swollen, warm, itchy, dry, or scaly. African Americans may be more likely to experience extensive skin dryness.

Signs of infection

As the blisters can result in open areas of skin, a person with dyshidrotic eczema is at greater risk for skin infections, such as staph infections caused by the Staphylococcus bacteria.

Symptoms of a staph infection include:

  • blisters that leak pus
  • pain
  • areas of crusting skin
  • areas of swollen skin

When this type of eczema is recurring, a person may notice thickened, tough skin on the areas where the blisters occurred.

A person should always contact a doctor if they think they have an infection in their skin. These may require treatment using antibiotics.

Read more about dermatology and skin care here.

There is currently no single cure for dyshidrotic eczema, but many treatments can help a person manage this condition.

Medical treatments for dyshidrotic eczema include:

  • Applying over-the-counter corticosteroid creams to reduce skin inflammation and irritation. These are also available to purchase online.
  • Taking antihistamines to reduce itching.
  • Applying anti-itch creams containing pramoxine, which are available over the counter or online.
  • Draining blisters. A doctor should perform this to reduce the risk of harmful infections.
  • Seeing a dermatologist for prescription corticosteroids.
  • Taking oral steroids, such as prednisone, to reduce inflammation.
  • Using light treatments. Exposure to ultraviolet light may reduce incidences of dyshidrotic eczema.

According to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS), dyshidrotic eczema is more common in spring and summer, and sweat may be a trigger. The Food and Drug Administration has approved botulinum toxin injections, also known as botox, to treat excessive sweating.

Reducing the amount a person sweats may reduce flare-ups of dyshidrotic eczema. A person should consult their dermatologist to discuss their treatment options.

The following can increase the risk of developing dyshidrotic eczema:

An allergic reaction to certain metals, including nickel and cobalt, can also cause the blisters. Everyday objects such as jewelry and mobile phones contain these metals. They are also in certain foods.

Risk factors

According to the National Eczema Association, females are more likely than males to experience dyshidrotic eczema. Those aged 20–40 years are also more likely to have this condition.

Other risk factors for dyshidrotic eczema include:

  • a family history of dyshidrotic eczema
  • a history of certain medical conditions, including atopic dermatitis, and contact dermatitis
  • an increase in outdoor temperatures during the spring or summer
  • jobs or hobbies that involve having wet hands or feet for long periods of time

A person receiving intravenous immunoglobulin therapy is also at a greater risk of developing dyshidrotic eczema. This therapy involves injecting specific antibodies into the veins to help a person fight a particular virus or bacteria.

To diagnose dyshidrotic eczema, a doctor will perform a physical examination of the skin. They may also ask questions about a person’s family history of eczema, occupation, diet, and medications the person is taking.

They may recommend allergy testing to determine if specific allergens are causing eczema. This involves pricking the skin using needles that contain common allergens, including certain foods, pet dander, molds, and pollen.

By identifying potential triggers, a doctor may be able to make recommendations to help a person reduce the incidence of their eczema flare-ups.

Applying cool compresses to dried-out blisters for 15 minutes may reduce itchiness. Following this, apply a lotion or medicated cream.

Washing the skin frequently keeps it clean, reducing the likelihood of skin infections.

A person can also apply moisturizing creams to prevent skin from drying out, especially after washing their hands or taking a bath. However, when the skin is very itchy, using ointment like petroleum jelly provides more relief than a cream or lotion.

While there is no sure way of preventing an eczema outbreak, a good skin care routine can help protect the skin from future flare-ups.

Ways to prevent dyshidrotic eczema include:

  • Consistently applying moisturizer soon after getting out of the shower or bath. This can prevent moisture loss and excessive dryness.
  • Wearing soft, loose clothing made of natural fibers, such as cotton, and avoiding overly scratchy or nonbreathable materials, including wool.
  • Refraining from scratching or itching, as this can break the skin and worsen the condition.
  • Reducing exposure to allergens, such as pet dander and pollen. Washing pets with dander-reducing pet shampoos may reduce allergy-related flare-ups. These shampoos are available online.
  • Using a humidifier, especially when the air is cold and dry. This adds moisture to the air, which protects the skin from drying out. Humidifiers are available to buy online.

What to avoid

One possible trigger of dyshidrotic eczema may be an allergy to nickel. This metal is in items such as jewelry, money, and stainless steel equipment.

If this condition does not respond well to usual treatments, a doctor may recommend reducing or eliminating foods that may have traces of cobalt or nickel.

Examples of these foods include:

  • bean sprouts
  • canned meats, including tuna
  • cashews
  • chocolate and cocoa powder
  • kidney beans
  • nuts
  • seeds
  • soybeans and soy products

If a person has other specific food allergies, these can also worsen dyshidrotic eczema symptoms.

Learn more about diet tips for eczema.

Dyshidrotic eczema symptoms can range from mild to severe.

Some people have flare-ups every few years, while others experience severe, recurring bouts that can make it hard to use the hands or walk.

A person with dyshidrotic eczema can speak with a doctor about the many treatment options available. Using treatment and prevention methods should help keep this condition under control and reduce the risk of skin infections.