You normally use your palms and fingers to stop an itch. But the undersides of your hands themselves can sometimes get tickly or uncomfortable too.
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Itchy palms can stem from a number of possible culprits. Most of them are benign and (thankfully) easy to manage, but in some cases, nonstop itching could be a sign of an underlying health problem, says Chicago-based board-certified dermatologist Jeffrey Hsu, MD.
Here's a look at the most likely causes and what you can do to get relief fast, plus when itchy palms warrant a call to the doctor.
You Have Dry Skin
Been washing your hands more than usual or spending time in the cold, windy weather without gloves? Both can dry out the skin on your hands and leave your palms feeling itchy and tight, Dr. Hsu says. If your palms are really parched, you might also notice patchy scales, flakes or cracks in your skin. Ouch.
Fix it: Slather on a hand cream with ingredients like glycerin, lactic acid or topical urea like CeraVe Therapeutic Hand Cream ($9.9, Amazon). "These are moisturizers that reduce skin water loss," Dr. Hsu says.
If frequent hand-washing is drying you out, suds up with a liquid soap containing added moisturizers such as SoftSoap Soothing Clean Moisturizing Liquid Hand Soap ($7.35, Amazon).
And tuck your hands into gloves or mittens when you're out in the cold. Exposure to dry winter air can make hands desert-like.
You Have Hand Eczema
Inflammatory skin conditions like eczema can flare up on your hands and palms, causing itchiness. It's easy to mistake the problem for a simple case of dry skin, but there are differences. "Eczema on the hand can present itself not only as itchiness, but as redness, crusting and inflammation," Dr. Hsu says. You might also notice a burning sensation or blisters.
Fix it: Like with eczema that flares up elsewhere on the body, the first step is avoiding irritants that cause your skin to flare up.
Next, regularly apply a glycerin- or petroleum-based hand cream to restore your skin's barrier and heal cracks, which will ease dryness and itching. Try Eucerin Advanced Repair Hand Cream ($7.49, Target). If you need itching relief ASAP, try an over-the-counter (OTC) steroid cream, Dr. Hsu recommends. Cortisone 10 Intensive Healing Lotion for Eczema ($10.99, Target) is a good option.
You're Allergic to Something
If your hands don't seem to agree with a new soap, detergent, lotion or even a piece of jewelry, your itch could be caused by contact dermatitis. These common allergic reactions can develop when skin comes in contact with an irritating substance, resulting in redness, itching, burning, hive-like bumps and swelling.
You Have Psoriasis
If your palms are itchy with thick, red or silvery patches, you could be dealing with psoriasis. The condition, which is sometimes confused for eczema, is an autoimmune disorder that speeds up the growth of skin cells, resulting in raised, scaly skin growths or bumps. The patches and itching can flare for weeks or months at a time, clear up and come back again, often in response to environmental triggers, per the Mayo Clinic.
Fix it: Similar to eczema, applying an OTC steroid cream can soothe itchy patches, Dr. Hsu says. Keep in mind, though, that chronic skin conditions like psoriasis are best managed under the guidance of a dermatologist. Depending on your symptoms, you might opt for additional treatment including oral medications or phototherapy.
You Started a New Medication
Itchy skin on your palms or elsewhere can sometimes be the result of taking a new drug. Common culprits include heart medications like heparin, calcium channel blockers, ACE inhibitors and beta blockers, as well as antibiotics like penicillin, per a September 2019 Medicines study.
Fix it: Let your doctor know if you think your medication is making you itchy. It may be possible to adjust your dose or switch to another drug.
You Have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Early signs of carpal tunnel syndrome — where nerves in the palm become pinched or compressed — can sometimes include an itching or tingling sensation in the hands, wrists or forearms, per the Cleveland Clinic. As the condition progresses, you might start to notice numbness or pain as well.
Fix it: Taking breaks from typing or other activities that make your hands or wrists uncomfortable and applying ice packs can be helpful for early carpal tunnel syndrome and even make the problem go away, according to the Mayo Clinic. If the condition progresses, you may need to use a wrist splint, take medication or even undergo surgery.
When to See a Doctor for Itchy Palms
Sometimes persistently itchy palms can be a sign of a serious underlying health condition including undermanaged diabetes, kidney disease or Crohn's disease.
"If you suspect the itching is a complication of diabetes, make an appointment to see an endocrinologist," Dr. Hsu says. "Otherwise, if your symptoms become severe or last for more than a few days, see a dermatologist."
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.