Healthy Living

What Could Itchy Palms Mean?

Common skin conditions can cause itchy palms. However, itchy palms can also indicate a serious underlying health problem.

What Could Itchy Palms Mean?

Although an itchy palm is rarely caused by serious conditions, it can also indicate a chronic skin problem that requires frequent treatment.

Your doctor can help diagnose your condition by identifying other symptoms you experience and what causes your itchy palm. Your doctor will recommend or prescribe treatment once a diagnosis is made. In most cases, relief is quickly achieved through proper treatment. 

What causes itchy palms?

Common skin conditions can cause itchy palms. However, itchy palms can also indicate more serious underlying health problems, such as diabetes, nerve disorders, and liver disease.

Some of the most common causes of itchy palms include:

1. Allergic Contact Dermatitis

This condition occurs when your skin is directly and repeatedly exposed to certain chemicals or irritants resulting in an allergic reaction. After being exposed to an allergen, an allergic reaction may appear within 48-96 hours.

The following are some of the most common irritants or allergens:

  • Soaps
  • Perfume
  • Highly chlorinated water
  • Nickel or other metals in rings and other types of jewelry
  • Rubber latex gloves
  • Antibiotics
  • Antiseptics
  • Disinfectants
  • Dust
  • Soil
  • Formaldehyde
  • Poison ivy and other plants
  • Balsam of Peru (medicinal product)

2. Eczema

Eczema is a non-contagious condition that can cause dryness, cracking, itching and sometimes blistering skin, including the palms of your hands and soles of your feet.

Several types of eczema can develop anywhere on your body. However, there is one type that only affects the hands and feet. This type of eczema is called dyshidrotic dermatitis.

Dyshidrotic dermatitis causes dry, scaly, and itchy skin along with small clear blisters that are often seen on the hands. Blisters may also develop on the feet. These clear blisters are usually very itchy and painful.

People whose hands are frequently exposed to harsh chemicals and excessive moisture are more likely to develop hand eczema. They include:

  • Mechanics
  • Hairdressers
  • Caterers
  • Dishwashers
  • Cleaners
  • Healthcare professionals

People with a family history of eczema also have a higher risk of developing the condition. 

3. Drug Reactions

In some cases, people develop mild allergic reactions to certain medications. When this happens, the body releases a chemical called histamine, which causes itching.

Sometimes, itchy palms may also be experienced since histamine tends to be more concentrated in the hands and feet. However, do not stop taking any of your prescription medications unless your doctor says otherwise.  

4. Diabetes

Diabetes is a lifelong disease characterized by high blood glucose levels. One of the first signs of this disease in some people is a skin problem called eruptive xanthomatosis, which causes itchy hands and feet. Other signs of this skin condition are:

  • High cholesterol level
  • Small yellowish bumps on the skin
  • Redness around the bumps

Eruptive xanthomatosis occurs when people have uncontrolled diabetes. However, this skin condition goes away when diabetes is well-managed.  

People with diabetes may also have itchy skin due to any of the following factors:

  • Allergic reaction to diabetes medication.
  • Diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage in the hands and feet).
  • Diabetes complications, such as kidney and liver failure, which can cause itchy skin.

Seek immediate medical treatment if you have diabetes with itchy skin. An irritated, itchy skin is more susceptible to infections. Infections in the hands and feet can be dangerous to people with uncontrolled diabetes and may result in amputation in severe cases.

5. Nerve Disorders

Nervous system disorders such as multiple sclerosis, shingles, pinched nerves, and diabetes mellitus can also cause itching. Sometimes, diabetes can affect the nerves in the hands and cause itchy palms.

Other nerve dysfunctions of the hand, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, tend to have the same symptoms. When a person has carpal tunnel syndrome, pressure on the hand’s median nerve causes symptoms of weakness, pain, numbness, and itching in the hands. The discomfort and itching often begin in the palm of the hand, particularly at night. 

You should see a doctor if you experience symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. If carpal tunnel syndrome is confirmed, your doctor may recommend a wrist brace along with avoiding repetitive tasks. Surgery may also be recommended as a treatment option in extreme cases. 

6. Liver Disease

Primary biliary cholangitis (PBC) is a chronic liver disease characterized by the following symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Poor memory and concentration
  • Itchy and blotchy palms of the hands
  • Itchy soles of the feet
  • Itchy scalp

This liver disease affects the bile ducts, which connect the liver to the gut or stomach. Damage and scarring can occur due to the buildup of bile in the liver. The exact cause of the disease is still unknown, but the condition is often observed in women than men.

Aside from itchy palms, people with PBC may also experience any of the following symptoms:

To reduce itching symptoms, a prescription medication called cholestyramine (Questran) is often prescribed. 

Treatment

Treatment for itchy palms usually depends on its underlying cause. However, the most common treatment options for itchy palms include:

  • Moisturizers: Skin itching can be reduced by the application of moisturizers. Moisturizing is very important after washing to minimize the chance of developing extreme skin dryness, especially in people with eczema.
  • Topical Steroids: These medications are available over-the-counter or through prescription. They can help minimize redness, irritation, and itching of the palms during flare-ups. However, corticosteroids should not be used for a longer period of time to avoid thinning of the skin.
  • Ultraviolet Light Treatment: This type of therapy may be used by people with severe hand eczema. The symptoms may be reduced by placing the hands under a light that emits ultraviolet A (UVA) rays. 

Prevention

Itchy palms can be easily prevented through regular and proper skin care. Here are some useful tips to help prevent itchy palms:

  • Avoid using harsh soaps and cleansers: These skin care products can be irritating.
  • Protect your hands: Sensitive skin must be protected by avoiding contact with solutions or chemicals that can irritate the skin. Protect your hands by using thick cotton gloves for daily routine chores or when handling dry substances. When handling liquids, try using latex gloves.
  • Use moisturizers: Skin moisturizers can help keep your skin healthy and hydrated. Lotions and other types of moisturizers can keep dryness and itchiness at bay.
  • Stay well-hydrated: Drink plenty of water to help hydrate your body from the inside out. 

References

Dyshidrotic eczema. American Academy of Dermatology. (2018). https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/eczema/dyshidrotic-eczema

Contact dermatitis. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. (2018). https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000869.htm

Contact Dermatitis. National Eczema Association. (2018). https://nationaleczema.org/eczema/types-of-eczema/contact-dermatitis/

Diabetes: 12 warning signs that appear on your skin. American Academy of Dermatology. (2018). https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/other-conditions/diabetes-warning-signs

Information, H., Disease, L., Cholangitis, P., Cirrhosis), P., Center, T., & Health, N. (2018). Primary Biliary Cholangitis (Primary Biliary Cirrhosis) National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/liver-disease/primary-biliary-cholangitis

Key Takeaways

  • Common skin conditions can cause itchy palms. However, itchy palms can also indicate more serious underlying health problems, such as diabetes, nerve disorders, and liver disease.
  • Treatment for itchy palms usually depends on its underlying cause.
  • Itchy palms can be easily prevented through regular and proper skin care.