Vesicular Palmoplantar Eczema Clinical Presentation

Updated: Oct 08, 2021
  • Author: Jessica Dunkley, MD, MHSc, CCFP; Chief Editor: Dirk M Elston, MD  more...
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The severity of vesicular palmoplantar eczema symptoms varies, ranging from mild discomfort to acute severe episodes. Patients rarely require hospitalization.

Classically, itching, burning, and prickling sensations of the palms and soles precede the eruption of vesicles. Thereafter, small (1- to 2-mm) vesicles form, most commonly on the lateral sides of the fingers. In pompholyx, the central areas of the palms and soles may or may not be involved. Large vesicles can also develop and may coalesce to form confluent bullae. The lesions last for 2-3 weeks, after which spontaneous resolution generally occurs. Occasionally, large bullae may need to be aspirated. This phase is followed by desquamation.

Chronic forms typically recur, and episodes are more frequent during the spring and summer than in the fall and winter.


Physical Examination

Clinical signs depend on the stage and form of palmoplantar eczema. 

Pompholyx of the palms. Pompholyx of the palms.

Acute episodes of vesicular eczema are characterized by a sudden onset of small, clear vesicles or bullae that are said to be "sago grain‒like" or "tapiocalike" in appearance (see the image above). Vesicles and/or bullae are accompanied by severe, occasionally painful pruritus. Small vesicles may enlarge or become more confluent and present as large bullae (especially on the palms and soles). Vesicles and bullae subsequently dry out and resolve, usually without rupturing. In most individuals, desquamation occurs 2-3 weeks after the onset of vesicles and bullae. In some patients, a milder recurrence follows the initial severe episode. Secondary infections, such as impetigo, cellulitis, or lymphangitis, are possible in patients with recurrent hand eczema. Secondary nail changes (eg, dystrophic nails, irregular transverse ridging, pitting, thickening, discoloration) can also occur.

Subacute vesicular eczema tends to have a chronic relapsing course with more vesiculation and more erythema in the acute phases than in later phases. Residual erythema or some dryness or scaling occurs in the less-active phases. Fissures are common and painful sequelae.

The chronic hyperkeratotic variety results in severe itching accompanied by thickening and fissuring of the palm. This effect may decrease the mobility of the affected hand.

When they occur on the hands, id reactions typically involve the fingers and the palms. These reactions often resolve when the primary infection is treated.



Secondary bacterial infections can occur, such as cellulitis, lymphedema, and, more rarely, septicemia. [26]