Treating A Patient With Blisters And Papules On The Soles

By Gary “Dock” Dockery, DPM, FACFAS

A Closer Look At Dyshidrotic Dermatitis

      The most likely diagnosis is dyshidrotic dermatitis/pompholyx. Fox first described dyshidrotic dermatitis in 1873. Characteristically, dyshidrotic dermatitis produces chronic foot and hand dermatitis, frequently with the formation of small vesicles on the outer aspects of the digits. Sometimes, clinicians refer to these vesicles as “tapioca pearls.” The term dyshidrotic eczema is a misnomer since abnormal sweat gland function is not implicated in this condition nor is it a specific eczematous disorder.       In 1876, Hutchinson described a much more severe form of the same condition, which he called “cheiropompholyx.” Several experts favor using the term “pompholyx” in reference to abrupt, primarily vesicular disease. Others continue to use the terms “dyshidrotic dermatitis,” “dyshidrotic eczema” and “pompholyx” interchangeably.       In general, hand and foot dermatitis is more common in women but dyshidrotic dermatitis may afflict men or women of any age equally. Previously, it has been said that dyshidrotic dermatitis is more prevalent among those with atopy and that over half of all patients with atopic dermatitis also have dyshidrotic dermatitis. Some authorities now dispute the relationship of atopy to dyshidrotic dermatitis.       Dyshidrotic dermatitis is a clinical diagnosis that clinicians may make via the history and clinical characteristics. It is characterized by symmetric vesicular eruptions on the soles, palms or lateral aspects of the digits, which eventually become dry and crusted. However, both surfaces of the palms and the soles may be involved simultaneously. Sharp demarcation at the wrists or ankles is common. Associated pruritus is intense in most reported cases. A clinical course of exacerbation and remission is common. This is sometimes associated with weather changes and, in other cases, may be associated with emotional stress.       It is usually not necessary to perform a biopsy in order to make the diagnosis. However, if one obtains a biopsy, the primary pathologic process identified is that of spongiotic dermatitis with an associated superficial perivascular lymphocytic infiltrate. The vesicular nature of the eruption is merely the phenotypic expression of severe spongiosis (epidermal edema) on acral skin with a thickened stratum corneum.       There are many reports and investigations regarding the relationship between dyshidrotic dermatitis and nickel allergy. Although some studies have demonstrated an increased rate of cutaneous allergy to nickel among those afflicted with dyshidrotic dermatitis, other studies have not demonstrated this association. Exacerbations of dyshidrotic dermatitis have been linked with nickel ingestion, even among those without cutaneous sensitivity to nickel. In fact, nickel-free diets reportedly improve dyshidrotic dermatitis in some patients.

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