Itchy palms are often the result of common skin conditions, such as eczema. But they can also signal more severe underlying issues, for instance, liver disease.

According to superstition, itchy left and right palms are thought to foretell that a person will give away or receive some money.

However, in reality, a person’s palms may start to itch for a legitimate medical reason.

In this article, we cover six possible reasons for itchy palms:

  • hand eczema
  • allergic reactions
  • diabetes
  • reactions to medication
  • cirrhosis
  • nerve disorders

The article also discusses ways to relieve the itching sensation and help prevent it from returning.

A close-up image of a person's palm that is itchy.-1Share on Pinterest
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Itching can be annoying regardless of where it occurs. It can be especially irritating on the hands, as this can interfere with daily tasks.

The following conditions are some of the more common causes of itchy palms.

1. Hand eczema

According to the National Eczema Association, around 1 in 10 people in the United States have hand eczema.

This noncontagious condition can cause itching palms, discolored skin, cracking, dryness, and sometimes blistering.

A subtype of hand eczema called dyshidrotic eczema causes a person to have small, itchy blisters, specifically on the hands and sometimes on the feet.

People most likely to have hand eczema include those who work in professions that expose the hands to excessive moisture or harsh chemicals. These professions include:

  • catering
  • cleaning
  • hairdressing
  • healthcare
  • auto repair

People with a family history of hand eczema are also at higher risk of the condition.

2. Allergic reactions

Sometimes, itchy palms result from repeated exposure to an irritant or chemical that eventually results in an allergic reaction. This is called contact dermatitis.

An allergic reaction may appear 24–48 hours after contact with an allergen.

Common allergens or irritants include:

  • metals, such as rings and other jewelry
  • perfumes
  • latex gloves
  • soaps
  • disinfectants
  • antiseptics or antibacterial substances
  • dust and soil
  • highly chlorinated water

It may take repeated exposure before the allergic reaction develops. This is because, after a few times, the body begins to release itch-causing histamines that irritate the skin.

3. Diabetes

When a person has diabetes, elevated blood sugar levels can cause dry skin that also feels itchy.

This itchy skin may appear with or without red or flesh-colored bumps on the palms and other areas of the body.

4. Reactions to medication

Sometimes, itchy palms develop as a result of something that a person has ingested, rather than something their hands have been in contact with.

When a person has a mild allergic reaction to a new medication, the histamine reactions in the body can cause itching.

The palms, in particular, can be itchy in these cases because histamines tend to collect in higher numbers in the hands and the feet.

A person should speak with their doctor before stopping a prescription medication unless symptoms are severe.

5. Cirrhosis

An autoimmune disorder called primary biliary cholangitis, or primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC), can cause itchy, blotchy palms.

PBC affects the bile ducts that connect the liver to the stomach. Bile that travels between these two organs builds up in the liver, causing damage and scarring.

In addition to itchy palms, a person with this disorder may experience:

PBC is more common in women. There is no known cause.

A person with PBC can take a prescription medication called cholestyramine (Questran) to reduce itching symptoms.

6. Nerve disorders

Sometimes, nerve damage to the hands, resulting from conditions such as diabetes, can cause itchy palms.

Other dysfunctions of the hand nerves can have similar effects, including carpal tunnel syndrome.

In carpal tunnel syndrome, pressure on the median nerve in the hand causes numbness, weakness, itching, and pain in the hands. The itching or discomfort will usually start in the palms and most commonly occurs at night.

If someone thinks they have carpal tunnel syndrome, they should speak with their doctor. The doctor may recommend avoiding repetitive activity or wearing a wrist brace. In extreme cases, surgery can reduce pressure on the median nerves.

People often link the effects of diabetes with itchiness of the palms and feet.

One 2021 study suggested that itching is a common symptom, affecting 35.8% of people with diabetes included in the study. Itching could be generalized or localized, often affecting the legs, torso, or scalp.

Diabetes can cause itchy skin in several ways:

  • Diabetic neuropathy, a type of nerve damage that people with diabetes might experience, can lead to damaged nerve fibers in the hands and feet. Before this damage occurs, the body releases inflammatory chemicals called cytokines that cause itching.
  • Complications of diabetes include liver and kidney failure, and both of these might cause itchy skin as a symptom.
  • A person might experience an allergic reaction to a new diabetes medication, causing itchiness.

If a person with diabetes experiences itchy skin, it is best to seek treatment as soon as possible. Irritated, itchy skin is more prone to infection, and diabetes reduces a person’s ability to fight infection if it occurs.

Treatments will vary based on the underlying cause of itchy palms. Some recommended treatments include:

Cool, damp cloth

Placing a cool, damp cloth on the palms for 5–10 minutes can relieve the itching sensation. An ice pack may also be effective.

Topical steroids

Corticosteroids can reduce itching and redness on the palms during a flare-up. People can buy these over the counter or obtain them by prescription.

It is best to avoid using steroid creams too regularly, as they can cause thinning of the skin.

Moisturize often

Regularly moisturizing can help reduce itching. Keeping the moisturizer in the refrigerator can make this treatment even more effective.

When itching occurs due to eczema, moisturizing may be especially important after washing or when the hands feel particularly dry.

The National Eczema Association recommends a variety of moisturizing products, sunscreens, and household cleaners on its website.

Ultraviolet light therapy

People with hand eczema or severe irritation may respond to ultraviolet light therapies. Placing the hands under a special light that emits ultraviolet-A rays may help reduce symptoms.

If a person has a condition such as contact dermatitis or hand eczema, avoiding known triggers might help prevent a flare-up.

If the cause of the itching is unknown, it may be worth doing a patch test before using any new lotions or creams on the hands. A person can apply the product to a small area of skin and leave it on overnight to make sure it does not cause a reaction.

Other steps that can help prevent itchy palms include:

  • avoiding gloves made of synthetic fabrics, as cotton gloves may be gentler on the skin
  • washing the hands with lukewarm water and avoiding water that is too hot or cold
  • using fragrance-free soaps or cleansers to wash hands
  • applying a moisturizer immediately after drying the hands; those with higher oil contents are more likely to lock in moisture
  • wearing protective gloves when doing chores or working with chemicals or detergents; a person can wear cotton gloves inside latex gloves to prevent irritation from the latex
  • avoiding gel-based hand sanitizers, as these often contain high concentrations of drying alcohol

Moisturizing the skin and avoiding irritants can help with most causes of itchy palms.

If someone experiences itchy palms and symptoms such as difficulty breathing, it is best to seek immediate medical attention. This could indicate a skin reaction that results in anaphylaxis.

If the cause of itchy palms is unknown, a person should speak with their doctor. A doctor can recommend the best course of treatment.

Below are some commonly asked questions about itchy palms.

Why are my hands suddenly itchy but no rash?

Itchy skin with no rash is often a temporary issue, such as dry skin or a bug bite. Less commonly, nerve disorders, kidneys, or liver issues can cause an itching sensation without necessarily causing a rash.

What does diabetic itching feel like?

Anecdotally, people with diabetes describe diabetic itching as irritating, tender, and difficult to refrain from scratching. The itching can appear anywhere on the body but is often experienced in the lower part of the legs.

Can high sugar levels cause itching?

People with diabetes may have blood sugar levels that are too high or too low. This can lead to various complications, including itching.

Can anxiety cause itchy palms?

Whilst anxiety and itching can share a close relationship, there is no evidence to suggest anxiety directly causes itching. Rather, having anxiety can worsen existing chronic itch conditions.

Itchy palms may occur due to eczema, allergic reactions, nerve disorders, or another cause.

People can speak with a doctor and identify potential triggers and other symptoms to learn the cause of their itchy hands.

Doctors may recommend lifestyle changes, such as moisturizing hands frequently, or prescribe treatments, such as corticosteroids, to help someone with itchy hands.