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Facts about the skin from DermNet New Zealand Trust. Topic index: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Palmoplantar pustulosis

Palmoplantar pustulosis is a chronic pustular condition affecting the palms and soles.

What is the cause of palmoplantar pustulosis?

The exact cause of palmoplantar pustulosis is unknown. It appears to be a disorder of the eccrine sweat glands, which are most numerous on palms and soles.

Palmoplantar pustulosis is probably autoimmune in origin ('self allergy'), as there is an association with other autoimmune diseases particularly gluten sensitive enteropathy (celiac disease), thyroid disease and type 1 diabetes.

Palmoplantar pustulosis was previously considered to be a localised form of pustular psoriasis, as about 10-20% of patients with palmoplantar pustulosis have psoriasis elsewhere. It is now known that they are distinct conditions with different genetic backgrounds. A variant of palmoplantar pustulosis affecting the tips of the digits is called acrodermatitis continua of Hallopeau or acropustulosis.

Genetic factors account for family members having the disease. However, it rarely occurs before adulthood. It is more common in women than men.

Palmoplantar pustulosis is much more common in current smokers (and in those that have smoked in the past). It is thought that activated nicotine receptors in the sweat glands cause an inflammatory process.

Dermatitis, particularly pompholyx, and tinea pedis (a fungus infection) may appear similar, but require different treatment.

Palmoplantar pustulosis Palmoplantar pustulosis Palmoplantar pustulosis
Palmoplantar pustulosis

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Clinical features of palmoplantar pustulosis

Palmoplantar pustulosis presents as crops of sterile pustules occurring on one or both hands and/or feet. They are associated with thickened, scaly, red skin which easily develops painful cracks (fissures).

The condition varies in severity and may persist for many years. It is not known what causes exacerbations or remissions. Palmoplantar pustulosis is not infectious to other people and does not influence one's general health. However the discomfort can be considerable, interfering with working and leisure activities.

Walking for prolonged periods may cause exacerbations on the feet. If the palms are involved, manual activities may be uncomfortable, and injuries may aggravate the disorder. Certain occupations are therefore inadvisable for affected individuals.

Treatment of palmoplantar pustulosis

Treatment does not cure the disorder and is not always successful. The following may be helpful.

General Measures


Topical Steroids
Topical steroids are anti-inflammatory agents which range in potency and vehicle. Only the strongest ointments are effective in conditions affecting the thick skin of the hands and feet. However the very potent products such as clobetasol proprionate should be used only for limited periods or else side effects and loss of efficacy become a problem.

A thin smear should be applied twice daily to the affected area. The effect may be enhanced by using plastic occlusion for a few hours or even overnight – use polythene gloves, plastic bags or cling film. Do not use occlusion for more than 5 days in a row.

Coal Tar
Crude coal tar is very messy but applied directly to the pustules every five days or so can stop them occurring. Paint on carefully and cover. It can be mixed in an ointment base for easier application.

Acitretin tablets, derived from Vitamin A, can control palmoplantar pustulosis in the majority of users. They have a number of potentially serious side effects so are only suitable for significantly disabled patients. A newer retinoid, alitretinoin, may also be effective.

Ultraviolet radiation, especially in combination with psoralens taken as tablets or applied topically (bathwater PUVA), can be effective (PUVA), particularly in combination with acitretin (Re-PUVA). Careful medical supervision is necessary to avoid burning.

A variety of other medications can help some subjects including:

Biologics are occasionally effective when used for severe palmoplantar psoriasis. However, TNFα inhibitors such as infliximab, etanercept and adalimumab may sometimes induce palmoplantar pustulosis as a side effect of treatment.

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