Background: Hand eczema is a skin disease often with a long-lasting and relapsing course. The long-term prognosis in the general population is unknown.
Objectives: The aims were to examine the extent to which hand eczema had persisted and the medicosocial consequences of the disease.
Methods: In a 15-year follow-up of hand eczema, patients diagnosed in a previous population-based study were sent a questionnaire with 20 questions concerning the persistence and course of the disease, and its occupational and medicosocial consequences.
Results: Addresses were available for 1115 persons, of whom 868 answered the questionnaire. Sixty-six per cent of the respondents reported periods of hand eczema and 44% reported symptoms during the previous year, with no sex difference. Twelve per cent reported continuous eczema. However, 74% of those reporting symptoms considered that their hand eczema had improved; of these more were women than men (78% vs. 66%, P < 0.01). Twenty people, 3% of those who were gainfully employed in 1983, reported a change to another occupation because of their hand eczema, 15 of these reporting improvement after the job change. A considerable need for medical consultation was reported, as was the influence on psychosocial functions among those who had eczema the previous year, e.g. sleep disturbances (36%) and hampered leisure activities (72%). Job changes related to hand eczema and psychosocial impairment were also reported by individuals who had not sought medical help for their hand eczema.
Conclusions: This study demonstrates a variable and poor long-term prognosis for hand eczema in the general population. One-third sought medical care during follow-up, while the vast majority with ongoing hand eczema experienced negative psychosocial consequences. For about 5%, the hand eczema gave far-reaching consequences including long sick-leave periods, sick pension and changes of occupation.