How I Treated My Pompholyx Eczema (Dyshidrotic Dermatitis)
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 ingredients lists are simply horrendous. Anyway, I digress…
It was about 6 months ago, 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 sooth 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 became 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.
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 have 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.
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!
It would be irresponsible of me to offer medical advice to others based on my personal experiences alone. I am not a doctor or dermatologist, only a sufferer of pompholyx eczema / dyshidrotic dermatitis. Everybody is different; people react to treatments in very different ways. Therefore 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.