There is no single cause for itching hands, but some of the most common factors that contribute to the condition include dry skin, medical conditions like eczema and psoriasis, or external irritants including many common chemicals. Allergic reactions to fabrics, lotions, or soaps can have a similar effect, and some diseases that cause inflammation in different parts of the body can also lead to itching in various parts of the body, including the hands. People who are unsure of what causes their itching or who find that the condition lasts for a long time or seems to be getting worse are usually advised to seek medical help. Itching is rarely serious, but it can interfere with daily life and is usually pretty easy to fix once the cause has been uncovered.
People who live in very dry climates or who spend a lot of time indoors in buildings with forced air systems often get itchy hands thanks to dry skin. Not drinking enough water or repeatedly washing hands with abrasive soaps can also cause this condition. The skin is a living part of the human body and it is made mostly of water; when skin cells become dehydrated, whether because of internal of external imbalances, the surface tends to shrink and pull away, causing discomfort and itching in many cases.
Dryness can usually be remedied with a little bit of lotion or hand cream, though people with chronic itchiness sometimes have to make lifestyle changes to make sure their skin stays supple. Switching to a moisturizing soap can help, for instance, as can applying thick cream before bed; wearing gloves while doing dishes, yard work, or other intensive activities is also frequently recommended. Limiting caffeine and alcohol, both of which can dehydrate the body, may also be required.
Certain skin conditions, particularly eczema and psoriasis, can make the skin on various parts of the body itch and flake, often as part of an imbalanced immune response. Ordinary lotions don’t normally help in these cases. Unfortunately for many sufferers there isn’t always a cure, but different treatments are usually available to bring itching under control. Dermatologists and other skin specialists can sometimes prescribe topical ointments and creams to lessen flare-ups, and some internal medications — either oral or injection-based — might also bring relief.
Itchiness that tends to come and go may be caused by environmental irritants. Anything from a new laundry detergent to acidic or astringent powders or juices can irritate the skin and cause itching if a person’s immune system reacts to something in the substance as a toxin. When this happens, the skin often gets red and itchy as the body basically sets up a barrier.
In most cases, simply washing the affected area to remove the irritant is all that’s needed to get the skin back to normal. Applying a neutral, unscented lotion can also be helpful. More serious rashes cause by foreign chemicals, especially those like bleach that can cause chemical burns or permanent damage, should usually be treated by a medical professional as an added precaution against tissue damage. Really serious itching is usually accompanied by intense pain and a feeling of burning, but not always.
It’s also common for people to develop itchiness on their hands if they are allergic to something they’ve touched, like a particular oil or chemical. Someone who breaks out in an itchy rash after using a new lotion might be allergic to one of its ingredients, for example, and someone who feels uncomfortable after cutting into or handling a certain fruit or vegetable may be allergic to something in that food’s juice or essential oils. This tends to be most common where chili peppers and other spicy foods are concerned, but can happen with just about anything.
The biggest difference between an allergy and an irritant is the body’s response. An irritant is something that the body recognizes as a foreign substance and tries to prevent from entering or causing damage. In the case of allergies, the immune system confuses something harmless for something dangerous, and goes on the attack against it. Simply washing off the offending oil or juice won’t normally stop the itching in an allergy scenario, at least not for some time. Medicines known as antihistamines are usually the best way to calm these reactions, and are available as either topical creams or oral capsules.
Insect Bites and Burns
A number of different bug bites can also cause itching hands if the bites occur on the fingers, palms, or even wrists. Bites often cause itchiness on a large area of skin around the actual puncture, not just on the bite itself, and most peoples’ hands are small enough that one or two bites is often all it takes for the whole hand to become quite uncomfortable. Applying small amounts of ammonia to the affected area can help relieve the itch, as can a number of commercial bug bite remedies. As tempting as it is, scratching only tends to make things worse in most cases.
Sunburn and other types of minor burns can have a similar effect, particularly as the skin beneath the damaged tissue begins to heal. This process, known as “regeneration,” can cause a lot of itching as the outer layer of skin is essentially shed or sloughed off. Creams that contain aloe, menthol, or other cooling ingredients can relieve some of this discomfort.
Itchy hands can also be caused by more serious conditions that may or may not have anything to do with the skin at all. The skin works as part of the body’s larger immune system, and as a result it sometimes can be impacted when there are problems elsewhere. Conditions like celiac disease and Crohn’s disease, both of which are linked to inflammation in the intestines, can cause redness, swelling, and at times itchiness or tingling in the hands and feet. Rheumatoid arthritis and certain cancers might also be at the root.
When to Get Help
Itching hands are rarely a sign of anything very serious, and in most cases can be corrected with simple at-home remedies. Just the same, most medical professionals recommend that people come in to get things checked out if they have itchiness that doesn’t respond to lotions or creams, doesn’t seem to go away on its own, or seems to be getting worse. Healthcare providers can then perform a range of diagnostic tests to figure out what is causing the problem and how to best fix it.