Medical questions & health advice by board certified doctors
"Why are my hands scaly and dry?"
I wash my hands frequently because of work and they have become scaly and dry to a degree that is alarming and unacceptable; i.e., the skin is peeling off, the fingers are getting puffy, they are oozing, and other unattractive and uncomfortable symptoms. Why is this happening and what can I do about it, short of stopping the frequent washing, which is really not possible? I am a thirty year old female.
The condition you are describing is known in the medical community as dermatitis, which is a general term meaning inflammation of the skin. It is very important for you to see a dermatologist as it sounds like your symptoms are quite severe. Your skin is a protective barrier and anytime there are breaks or open wounds in your skin you are at risk for a secondary bacterial infection. There are many causes of dermatitis of the hands, a few of which I will discuss here. The first is allergic, or contact dermatitis, in which you have become sensitive to something that your hands are coming into contact with. This can be hard to figure out but some common culprits include latex (if you wear latex gloves at work, for example), nickel, and rubber. Another common cause of hand dermatitis is excessive exposure to water, such as from frequent hand-washing which you have experienced. This robs skin of moisture and can lead to your symptoms. Another possibility is eczema, which is a type of dermatitis that is often seen in people who experience asthma or hay fever. The dermatologist will likely prescribe medication such as a topical corticosteroid to help relieve your symptoms. In the meantime, try to keep your hands as moisturized as possible. Use a good quality moisturizer such as Eucerin and apply liberally after every time you wash your hands.
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