Itchy palms are often caused by common skin conditions, but they can also signal a more serious, underlying issue.
According to superstition, itchy left and right palms were thought to symbolize that a person is going to give away or receive some money.
However, there are some legitimate medical reasons why a person's palms may start to itch.
In this article, we cover six possible reasons for itchy palms:
The article also discusses ways to relieve the itching sensation, and prevent it from returning.
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, an estimated 10 percent of people in the United States have hand eczema.
This non-contagious condition can cause itching palms, red skin, cracking, dryness, and sometimes blistering.
A subtype of hand eczema exists called dyshidrotic eczema, which causes a person to have small, itching blisters specifically on the hands and sometimes feet.
People most likely to have hand eczema include those who work in certain professions where hands are exposed to excessive moisture or harsh chemicals.
Professions at risk of hand eczema include:
Those with a family history of hand eczema are also at higher risk for the condition.
2. Allergic reactions
Sometimes itchy palms are the result of repeated exposure to an irritant or chemical that eventually results in an allergic reaction. This is called contact dermatitis.
An allergic reaction may appear 48 to 96 hours after contact with an allergen.
Common allergens or irritants include:
- metals, such as rings and other jewelry
- latex gloves
- 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.
When a person has diabetes, too-high 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 can 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 to their doctor before stopping a prescription medication unless symptoms are severe.
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 medicine 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 carpal tunnel syndrome is suspected, a person should see their doctor. The doctor may recommend avoiding repetitive activity or wearing a wrist brace. In extreme cases, surgery is an option to reduce pressure on the median nerves.
People often link the effects of diabetes with itchiness of the palms and feet.
One 2010 study suggested that itching is a common symptom in people with diabetes. Around 11.3 percent of the people in the study who had diabetes reported itchy skin, but only 2.9 percent of the sample without diabetes advised the same.
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, leading to increased itchiness.
If a person with diabetes experiences itchy skin, they should 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 onto the palms for 5 to 10 minutes can relieve the itching sensation. An ice pack may also be effective.
Corticosteroids can reduce itching and redness on the palms during a flare-up. They can be bought over the counter or obtained by prescription.
Avoid using steroid creams too regularly as they can cause thinning of the skin.
Moisturizing often can help reduce itching. Keeping the moisturizer in the refrigerator can make this treatment even more effective.
When itching is caused by eczema, moisturizing may be especially important after washing, or when the hands feel particularly dry.
The National Eczema Association list some recommended moisturizing products, sunscreens, and household cleaners on their website.
Mositurizers are available to purchase in supermarkets, drugstores, and online.
Ultraviolet light therapy
A person 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 to reduce symptoms.
If a person has a condition such as contact dermatitis or hand eczema, avoiding known triggers of the condition might help prevent a flare-up.
If the cause of the itching is not known, it may be worth doing a patch test before using any new lotions or creams on the hands. 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 prevent itchy palms include:
- Avoiding gloves made of synthetic fabrics. Cotton gloves should be gentler on the skin.
- Washing hands with lukewarm water. Avoid 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.
- Using a moisturizer recommended by the National Eczema Society.
- 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.
Keeping the skin moisturized and avoiding irritants can help with most causes of itchy palms.
If a person experiences itchy palms along with symptoms such as difficulty breathing, they should seek immediate medical attention. This could indicate a skin reaction that results in anaphylaxis or difficulty breathing.
If the cause of itchy palms is not known, a person should consult their doctor to find out the cause. The doctor can then recommend the best course of treatment.