The fingers are the main appendages that makes physical contact with our environment, possibly more than any other part of the body. The fingers allow us to touch and feel, feed ourselves and carry out a host of daily tasks that are required for our physiological, social and economic needs. However, it also is in situations and comes into contact with a number of substances that can injure the skin, trigger an allergic reaction or irritate the areas so as to lead to itchy fingers.
Why do the fingers itch?
The fingers itch for the same reasons as itching anywhere else on the body. It is a surface sensation that is elicited by specialized receptors referred to as itch receptors. The reason that itching is triggered is believed to be as a protective mechanism when some irritant is on the skin surface. Itching leads to scratching which allows for the removal of this irritant before it causes any damage to the tissue.
However, itching can also be elicited for other reasons even though there is no irritant on the skin surface. It is a common symptom of skin diseases. While some of these skin diseases may be caused by substances that come in contact with the fingers, at other times it arises due to systemic causes. This means that the disease is spread throughout the body and skin anywhere on the body may be affected, like the fingers.
Causes of Itchy Fingers
There are many different causes for itchy fingers. Many of these causative conditions may overlap both in physical appearance like the rash and other symptoms. Therefore it is important to have the condition assessed by a medical professional. Sometimes there is no identifiable cause of the itching. The odd bout of itchy fingers that eases on its own within a short period and where there are no other symptoms like a rash is not usually a cause for concern.
Injury, Bites and Stings
The fingers may sustain physical and chemical injury in a number of different ways. Understandably the fingers are probably more likely to be injured than other parts of the body due to its close physical interaction. Blunt force trauma like stubbing a finger or slamming it in a door, chemical injury like touching a strong acid or bleach and sharp force trauma like a paper cut or knife wound are some of the common injuries that the finger may sustain. Burns are another common injury.
Picture of burn on hand
In most of these instances, there is pain, swelling, redness and heat which are the main features of inflammation. Certain substances that the fingers touch, like poison ivy, can also elicit itching. One of the common traumatic causes of itching is an insect bite or sting. There is a combination of physical and chemical trauma. The piercing of the skin causes physical injury while the insect’s secretions may irritate the skin and lead to itching.
Viral, Bacterial and Fungal Infections
A number of different infections can lead to itchy fingers. Viruses, bacteria and fungi are common infectious agents of skin. With viral infections, a skin rash may be seen in chickenpox and measles. Some rashes can be lead to intense itching like the chickenpox rash. Bacterial infections are more likely to arise with a break in the skin that allows the bacteria to enter the deeper layers of the skin. Burning and pain is more common but itching may also be present.
Fungal skin infections is one of the more likely infectious cause of long term itchy fingers. Most of these infections are caused by dermatophytes – species of fungi that specifically infect skin. The term for this type of fungal infection is tinea manuum. It refers to a fungal infection of the hand but also includes the fingers. One of the commons sites is between the fingers (‘web’ of the fingers). Itching is usually intense along with peeling dry skin and red borders.
Picture of fungal infection of the skin
Scabies is a parasite that can burrow into the skin. It may cause itching as a result of an allergic reaction to the eggs in deposits in these burrows within the skin. Body lice, chiggers and demodex mites are other parasites that may infest the skin.
Picture of scabies on the hand
Allergic and Irritant Contact Dermatitis
Another common cause of itchy fingers is contact dermatitis. As the name suggests, it is an inflammatory skin condition that arises when the skin comes into contact with an allergen or irritant. In allergic contact dermatitis the ensuring allergic reaction occurs due to a person’s immune sensitivity to a harmless substances (allergen). Examples of allergens include animal hair, latex and certain metals.
Irritant contact dermatitis of the other hand can affect any person. The skin is irritated and inflamed from coming into contact with some irritant. Even substances that are considered harmless, like water and perspiration, can be irritants if there is prolonged contact with the skin. Just about any substances can be an irritant but common irritants include detergents, bleach, organic dust, soaps and so on. It may also be seen with certain occupations. Refer to hand dermatitis.
Picture of irritant contact dermatitis
There are many other skin conditions that can present with itchy fingers. The more likely causes have been discussed above but the following conditions may also be responsible:
- Atopic dermatitis
- Dyshidrotic eczema (pompholyx)
- Exfoliative keratolysis
- Psoriatic Arthritis
- Urticaria (hives)
- Xeroderma (dry skin)
Picture of dyshidrotic eczema
Treatment for Itchy Fingers
The reasons for itchy fingers first needs to be investigated by a medical professional. Only once the exact condition is diagnosed can the appropriate treatment be commenced. The choice of treatment can vary significantly depending on the condition that is diagnosed. Topical and oral medication may be necessary for skin diseases. However, often there is acute underlying causes that are easily neutralized with simple measures.
- Washing the hands thoroughly with soap and water.
- Immersing the fingers in cold water for a few minutes.
- Discontinue any new skin care application such as hand lotion.
- Avoid making direct contact with harsh chemicals, like bleach, by using gloves.
- Moisturizing the hands with a hypoallergenic skin cream or lotion.
However, these measures may not always be sufficient for remedying itchy fingers. Itchy fingers alone may be treated with topical applications like corticosteroid, antifungal and antimicrobial ointments. Calamine lotion can be helpful for itchy skin lesions like the chickenpox rash. Sometimes oral medication may be necessary such as antibiotics, antifungals, corticosteroids and immune modulators or suppressants.
- Dermatology Atlas Brazil. atlasdermatologico.com.br