Pompholyx, better known as dyshidrosis or dyshidrotic eczema, is a skin condition characterized by small, fluid-filled and itchy blisters on the feet and hands. It is similar to a disease such as epidermolysis bullosa (EB), which also involves the appearance of blisters on the skin. This condition is more likely to occur in women than men, and it tends to recur frequently. Other terms for pompholyx include acute vesiculobullous hand eczema, cheiropompholyx, dyshidrotic eczema and podopompholyx.
The term pompholyx means “bubble” in Greek, and the cheiro prefix often attached to it refers to the hand, to pinpoint the exact site of affliction. The dyshidrotic terms are used to explain one possible cause of the disease that has since been discounted: bad sweating. It seems that people are more likely to develop pompholyx if they are experiencing emotional stress or allergies such as hay fever, or if they expose their hands to certain types of chemicals such as chromium, cobalt and nickel. Currently, the exact cause of pompholyx is yet to be determined.
The blisters associated with dyshidrosis usually appear on the toes, soles, palms, and finger edges. In addition to their small, fluid-filled, and itchy nature, they can develop redness and cracks. The larger the blemishes are, the more they cause pain to the patient. Also, scratching them only makes them worse, as they can consequently change in texture, increasing the thickness of the skin.
Usually, dermatologists only need to look at the skin to diagnose pompholyx. There are instances, however, where they may carry out other tests such as skin biopsy or scraping. The skin condition might be something else entirely, perhaps the result of an allergy or fungal infection.
Once the presence of dyshidrosis is confirmed, dermatologists prescribe ointment creams such as Vaseline and Lubriderm for a twice-a-day application. This can also be combined by the ingestion of anti-itch medication such as diphenhydramine, whose brand name is Benadryl, and loratiadine, whose brand name is Claritin. Ultraviolet light therapy, steroid pills and coal tar preparations are reserved for the most severe symptoms.
People with pompholyx are strongly discouraged from scratching the blisters, frequent bathing and hand washing. These activities only prolong the time period the blemishes need to heal. Although there is no cure for the disease and recurrence is probable, the dyshidrotic eczema does go away, and can stay away, with strict adherence to treatment.