Itchy palms are a common symptom that in many cases have no clearly identifiable cause and resolves on its own within minutes to hours. This itching for no reason has been linked to many superstitions in different cultures. However, from medical perspective an itchy palm can be an important indicator that the skin of the hand is either injured or diseases. Sometimes itchy palms are a symptom of some underlying medical conditions like liver disease.
Why Do Palms Itch?
Itching of the palms often occur for the same reason that itching occurs elsewhere on the body. Itch receptors when stimulate sends impulses back to the brain. The brain processes these signals and it is perceived as itching at the site from where it originates – in this case the palm or palms. The sensation of itching compels us to scratch the area. It is believed the act of scratching removes the irritant at the site, or makes us aware of something irritating the skin in order to take action to prevent further itchiness.
It seems that itch receptors are stimulated by the chemicals that are released by the body when it comes into contact with irritants or allergens. It may be different from pain which is initiated with tissue damage although there may be some degree of overlap – triggers of itching may also cause pain in some cases. At one time it was thought that itching was a low-intensity version of pain. However, it is now apparent that the itch sensation arises in specialized sensory neurons (nerve cells).
The hands are prone to irritation and injury as it makes direct contact with objects in our environment throughout the day. In fact the palms, like the soles, have thicker skin to contend with the repeated use, insults and injuries that it may face. It also has a higher concentration of specialized tactile receptors like Meissner’s corpuscles that are sensitive to light touch. With these two factors in mind, it is therefore not surprising that the palms will itch with even slight triggers and be more likely to make contact with irritants and allergens.
Irritants are substances that will trigger an itch in any person although the sensitivity of individuals toward the irritant varies. Allergens will only trigger an itch in people who have immune-hypersensitivity (allergy) to specific harmless substances. Apart from substances that will trigger itching (like poison ivy) or allergens (like pollen), sometimes the most unexpected everyday substances can be triggers for itching. For example, water can be an irritant that can lead to itching, as can your body’s own perspiration.
Causes of Itching Palms
Injury to the skin can occur through a number of different ways. Most of the time we expect there to be discomfort, soreness, burning or pain along with redness, swelling and heat. These are typical features of inflammation. However, sometimes minor trauma may be perceived as itching without overt pain and discomfort.
Dryness of the skin is one of the main causes of itching yet it is easily treated and prevented. Although skin can maintain its own moisture levels, it is prone to drying when there is constant friction, dehydrating agents applied to it like antibacterial soaps and with exposure to dry environments. Dry skin known as xeroderma may also occur as a symptoms of various skin diseases.
Palmar hyperhidrosis is the medical term for excessive sweating of the palms. It is a common condition often associated with abnormal nervous stimulation of the sweat glands in the skin. The persistent moisture of the palms can cause irritation of the skin along with peeling. Itching may be a symptoms especially when the sweating eases and the skin becomes very dry.
Dermatitis means skin inflammation. There are many different types of dermatitis. Contact dermatitis is among the more common type. It occurs when the skin comes into contact with a substance that either irritates it (irritant contact dermatitis) or triggers an allergic reaction (allergic contact dermatitis). Contact with water, soap, detergents, certain lotions, latex, animal hair and so on are some of the substances that can be a problem.
Atopic dermatitis is commonly referred to as eczema, although eczema can refer to any type of dermatitis. It is a skin condition associated with a predisposition to allergies. Often the condition starts early in life and may be linked to allergic rhinitis and asthma. The rash appears as excessively dry and rough skin, it usually occurs in the skin folds and is known to be extremely itching. Read more on hand eczema.
Ringworm (Fungal Infections)
Fungal infections of the skin are usually caused by dermatophytes. It presents with a round ring-like rash which is why it is referred to as ringworm. Most of these skin infections are itchy. There are many different species of dermatophytes that may be responsible. Tinea nigra is one type of fungal skin infection that causes a dark brown to black patch on the palms but usually does not itch.
Scabies is a skin infestation caused by a tiny mite, Sarcoptes scabiei hominis. Although scabies spreads quickly among people in close contact, it is easily treated and prevented. Itching is a common symptom that occurs when the mites burrow into the skin and lay eggs with the tracks that triggers an allergic reaction. Itching of the palms due to scabies is a symptom more commonly seen in children with scabies.
Psoriasis is a skin condition marked by dry thickened patches of skin that are extremely itching. It is believed to be an autoimmune condition where there is a problem with the normal rate of shedding of skin cells. It can occur anywhere on the body, sometimes covering large portions of the skin throughout the body. When there is pain and stiffness of the small joints (like the fingers) then it may be psoriatic arthritis.
There are many non-dermatological conditions that can lead to itchy skin. It may not always affect only the palms. Among these conditions is diabetes mellitus, a common chronic endocrine disease. Eruptive xanthomatosis is a skin condition that may occur with diabetes and it can sometimes even be the first sign of diabetes. Itching of the palm is a common symptom. Itching of the skin may also occur with liver, gallbladder and kidney diseases.