How I Deal With Dyshidrotic Eczema, a Skin Condition That Makes It Painful to Walk


It started with a persistent itch between two of my toes. I tried everything: tea tree oil, over-the-counter creams, moisturizers. But it just wouldn't go away. I was in the final months of my post-graduate studies, and I couldn't wait to start working. I felt like I didn't have time to go see a doctor—and even if I did, I would have been embarrassed to get treatment for an itchy toe. It was annoying and frustrating, but I tried to ignore it.

But the week before I was supposed to start a new job in a new city, a blister the size of my palm suddenly appeared on my foot. I couldn't get my shoe on, and it was agony to walk barefoot or in flip-flops. This time, I went to the doctor.

My general practitioner was baffled by the large blister that had appeared seemingly overnight. I was prescribed an antifungal, antibiotic, and steroid cream (I guess to cover all the bases) and the blister was drained. I hobbled out of the doctor's office and set about moving to London for my new job.

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Before too long, though, the blister came back, and this time it was worse. My feet wept from the build-up of fluid, and then the blisters began to spread like a rash across my toes, on the bottom of my feet, and finally up the sides of my feet. It was agony. The incessant itch would wake me up at night and my skin bled from my scratching. Any skin I managed not to scratch wasn't much better, and would often fall off in sodden layers as the blisters oozed fluid all over my feet. I needed crutches to get around, making my daily commute a struggle.

I was desperate. I found a new doctor in London, and he prescribed me yet another antifungal medication. When that didn't work, I begged for a dermatologist referral. It was there that I finally got my diagnosis: I had dyshidrotic eczema (also called pompholyx eczema), a type of eczema that causes itchy, fluid-filled blisters to appear on the hands and feet. Although the blisters are usually small, larger ones can also form, and they leave the skin feeling red, sore, and inflamed.

There's no cure for dyshidrotic eczema, but treatment can help manage symptoms. My dermatologist sent me away with a prescription-only steroid cream, an emollient to sooth my painful skin, and stern advice to follow a strict daily routine that involved wrapping my feet in plastic wrap after I had put on the steroid cream to help it sink in.

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Slowly, my eczema improved, and I began to understand the triggers for my condition. Stress and anxiety are big ones, so it's no surprise that I first developedsymptoms when I was studying for exams, job searching, and getting ready to move to a new city. Caffeine is also problematic for me, as is heat and materials that make my skin chafe or feel sweaty. At the advice of a nurse, I started washing my socks, sheets, and towels in hot water every week.

These strategies seem to be helping, and today there are no visible signs of dyshidrotic eczema on my feet. Eczema continues to cause me stress (I'm constantly worried that my symptoms will flare up again), but I'm now more confident in my ability to deal with the condition and take necessary steps to heal my skin—and that helps me take it all in stride.