Scientists believe that the itch receptors get stimulated by specific chemicals when the human body comes in contact with allergens or irritants. In the past, it was believed that itching is a low-intensity version of pain. But, it is now evident that the sensation of itching occurs in specialized sensory neurons.
What are itchy palms?
Itchy palms often happen for the same reason as itching on other parts of the human body. When the skin’s itch receptors are stimulated, they send impulses to the brain that processes these signals and identifies them as itching. The itching sensation compels one to scratch the area. It is theorized that the very act of scratching eliminates the irritant at the site, or notifies the person that something is irritating the skin to take necessary action to prevent further itchiness.
Itchy palms are a common symptom that has no identifiable cause at most times and resolves on its own within minutes or hours. The itching is also associated with many superstitions in different cultures. Though, from a medical viewpoint, an itchy palm can be a significant indicator that the skin is injured. At times, itchy palms signal some hidden medical conditions like liver disease.
Causes of itchy palm
- Skin damage: Certain chemicals can irritate the hand’s sensitive skin. Activities like scrubbing or brushing can hurt the skin also. It can cause dryness, peeling, and pruritus or intense itching. Washing hands frequently strips of its protective layer.
- Dry skin: Harsh winters steal the moisture from the human body. Dry skin or xerosis can be irritating and cause itching.
- Allergy: If someone is allergic to something the person comes in contact with, itchy palms can be experienced and may not be instantaneous. At times, one might not experience any itchiness for several hours after touching the allergen. According to Thermo Fisher Scientific, a business corporation that conducts researches in the field of allergies and autoimmune diseases, severe allergy symptoms can cause itching in the palms.
- Dermatitis (inflammation of the skin): There are different types of dermatitis, the most common being the contact dermatitis. It happens as the skin comes in contact with any irritant (irritant contact dermatitis) or allergy-triggering substances (allergic contact dermatitis). Touching soap, detergents, latex, water, certain lotions, animal hair is some of the items that can cause trouble.
- Psoriasis: This common skin ailment causes uncontrolled reproduction of skin cells. The increased pace means the skin cells are not able to shed themselves. Eventually, the extra layers of skin cells accumulate on the surface of the skin. Apart from itching, Psoriasis can also cause the following.
- Patches of red skin or red blisters (sometimes with silvery white scales, bumps filled with pus)
- Swollen, painful, or stiff joints
- Soreness in the nearby joints
- Cracked skin which may cause bleeding
- Itchiness in other places like the elbows, lower back, knees, and face
- Psoriasis (chronic illness): One may only experience temporary or infrequent cycles of the disease, instead of the constant outbreak. It does not usually affect the palms. According to dermatologist Dr. Amy Stanway from Waikato Hospital of New Zealand, the primary reason why psoriasis typically impacts the palms and soles are still unknown. Many times, Psoriasis is hereditary, but it could be caused by skin damage, infection, or even prolonged stress.
- Eczema: Also known as atopic dermatitis, it may cause colored patches of skin in the affected region. Some will be red, while others may look like grey or dark shades of brown. Some people develop pimple-like small bumps on their skins. These bumps may burst and cause the fluid to leak which is trapped inside. The skin may also become dry and could lead to cracking or even bleeding. One may suffer from symptoms for a few days or weeks and then not experience it for several months. According to skin specialist Dr. Amanda Oakley, one of the most common characteristics of hand eczema is itchy and sometimes painful skin.
- Diabetes: This rarely happens, but diabetes can cause itchiness too. The disease causes poor blood circulation, which in turn causes itchy skin. Though, most diabetics experience more itchiness in their legs than their hands. It can be felt in buttocks also.
- Scabies: An eight-legged insect called the Sarcoptes scabie or the human itch mite, can be attributed to commonly occurring skin issues. This tiny bug digs the top layer of the Human skin and lays an egg in the epidermal layer causing scabies. This disease has a propensity to spread in highly crowded areas where people have lots of skin-to-skin contact happening over an extended period. One can not get scabies from quick momentary touching activities like a handshake or a hug.
- Ringworm: If someone notices a reddish circular rash on the palm, it can be Tinea manuum. Despite the name, a worm is not responsible, but by fungal infection is known as dermatophytosis. Palms are mostly affected due to ringworm, but sometimes only affects a single hand. Some ringworm infections do not need any kinds of treatment and heal on its own. Others can be treated with home remedies or antibiotics. Yeast infections like candidiasis can also cause itching.
- Cholestasis of pregnancy: The condition of the itchy palm is often experienced by pregnant women during the 3rd trimester. The severe itching of palms or soles while carrying a child is medically known as cholestasis of pregnancy. In most cases, itchiness disappears after the delivery. Hence never ignore it, because it may well be a symptom of an underlying liver condition which can have an impact on the health of the fetus.
- Erythema: Infections or medications like (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) NSAIDs, chloroquine, beta-blockers, lithium might result in a skin condition called erythema. Eventually, it results in small red projected itchy spots on the palms. Apart from itching, this disease can lead to headaches, aching joints, mouth sores, and also sensitivity towards the light.
- Primary Biliary Cirrhosis: An inflammation in the liver, it is an autoimmune disease is also known as primary biliary cholangitis. In this condition, small ducts are damaged that carry the bile to the gallbladder from liver. According to Dr. John M. Vierling, two major symptoms of PBC are fatigue and itching. This itching on the palms is usually very intense at night and could disturb one’s sleep.
- Food allergies & sensitivities: When the human immune system reacts to such food that is usually rendered harmless, food allergies and sensitivities may arise. Common food allergies include gluten, eggs, wheat, shellfish, milk, soy, seafood, peanuts and monosodium glutamate (commonly marketed as Ajinomoto).
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: This disease can also cause itchy palms. The condition occurs from repetitive hand usage. People who commonly suffer from CTS include grocery clerks, writers, assembly line workers, knitters, and musicians.
- Systematic Lupus Erythematosus: It is an autoimmune disease that kills the body’s healthy cells. SLE attacks several parts of the body including the heart, skin, or the digestive tract. Red or itchy palms are the symptoms that may occur with this medical condition.
- Palmar Hyperhidrosis: It is the medical term for excessive sweating of the palms. It is a common condition linked to abnormal nervous stimulation of the skin’s sweat glands. The persistent moisture of the palms irritates the skin along with peeling. Itching could be a symptom when the sweating stops, and the skin becomes very dry.
Symptoms of Itchy Palms
- Dehydrated skin
- Burning and stinging
- Red, cracked skin
- Scaly skin
- Clear blisters
- Small, yellow bumps on the skin
- Redness around the bumps
- High Cholesterol
- Pimply rash
- Tiny blisters and scales
- Greyish-white or skin-colored burrows that resemble lines
Treatment of itchy palms
- Dry skin: Applying a moisturizer several times during the day would typically suffice.
- Food-related & other allergies: Symptomatic use of antihistamines or corticosteroids are suggested. Topical anti-allergic lotions can also be applied. Hydrating lotions that replenish the skin with lactic acid glycerin, topical urea can be put to use.
- Eczema and Psoriasis: Over-the-counter lotions, emollients, and steroidal ointments are usually suggested for such cases which are not severe. If this condition is critical, then the patient is required to take prescription drugs (antihistamines, steroids, and antibiotics). These medicines decelerate or stop the bodily processes responsible for such conditions.Essential fatty acid supplements like gamma linoleic acid (GLA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), probiotics, zinc or quercetin supplements, methylsulfonylmethane (commonly marketed as MSM), and vitamin (A, C, D3, E) supplements also help ease the symptoms.
- Diabetes: Early diagnosis of pre-diabetes or diabetes helps in reducing the number of adverse effects and symptoms. Once diabetes is identified, symptoms may subside after proper management of blood glucose levels.
- Primary Biliary Cirrhosis: Ursodeoxycholic acid can be used for the treatment PBC. The medication slows down the progression of this disease.
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: Drugs such as ibuprofen, aspirin, and corticosteroids soothes nerve pressure as well as relieves some of the symptoms. Sometimes, the tissue putting pressure on the central nerve requires being surgically severed.
- Systemic Lupus Erythematosus: SLE has no specific treatment for this disease, however, immune-suppressing drugs such as cyclophosphamide and corticosteroids help to manage the condition.
- Ringworm: An antibiotic called Griseofulvin is prescribed.