Having itchy hands and feet can be quite irritating especially if it distracts our concentration while performing our daily activities. Persistent itching can be annoying, and constant scratching can damage the skin. Furthermore, it may also cause disturbances in sleep, as most common complain of losing sleep when they suffer from itchy skin.
Causes of itchy hands and feet
There are several possible causes of itchy hands and feet:
Most skin disorders cause chronic or recurrent itchiness of the skin. These include:
Dry skin (xerosis cutis) - Many factors can cause dryness of skin, such as changes in weather, exposure to sunlight, exposure to air-conditioning, and aging. These may result in loss of natural oils which in turn leads to loss of moisture or water through the epidermis (the outermost layer of the skin). This causes the skin to become dry. Dryness, flakiness, and inflammation give rise to excessive itching of the skin.
The best way to treat dry skin is to moisturize it using emollients, which can help maintain the softness of the skin. It is best to use those skin care products that are especially formulated for sensitive skin if you have sensitive type of skin.
Psoriasis - This noncontagious, lifelong condition affects about two to three percent of the US population. It is characterized by having thick, red, and scaly patches on the skin. Psoriasis runs in families, and it may be triggered by emotional stress, skin injury, infection, and certain medications. The cause is unknown, but it may be related to dysfunction in the immune system.
Treatment may include topical skin care products containing steroids, vitamin A or vitamin D, oral medications and other topical immunosuppressants. One can also use mild soap for bathing daily, oil-based moisturizers, and skin care products containing salicylic acid to relieve skin dryness and itchiness. Exposure to small doses (10-15 minutes) of natural sunlight may also be helpful, done 2 to 3 times in a week.
Allergic contact dermatitis - This is a delayed hypersensitivity reaction, which occurs about 48-72 hours after exposure to an allergen such as chromates, nickel, rubber chemicals, ointments, creams, fragrances, lanolin formaldehyde, and many other environmental chemicals. Symptoms include pink to red areas of scaly, elevated skin (plaques and papules) and blisters or vesicles, eyelid swelling, and severe itching. When persistent, the elevated areas become thick and bacterial infection may occur possible.
Treatment includes prevention of contact with known allergens, use of oral antihistamines, topical steroids and oral steroids (prednisone) for severe cases.
Irritant contact dermatitis - This inflammatory rash is caused by direct injury to the skin by a chemical, resulting in a skin reaction within a few hours of exposure. Patients typically complain at first of a burning or stinging pain, which becomes chronic as the skin becomes persistently inflamed. Itching could become the predominant symptom.
Using petroleum jelly or applying thick moisturizing cream directly to the skin after bathing is recommended. These may be applied frequently (or twice daily) to moisturize the skin and protect it from damage. Topical steroids are prescribed if the inflammation is severe. Avoid exposure to the offending chemical to protect the skin damage and dryness.
Dyshidrotic eczema or dyshidrotic dermatitis - The condition is an itchy rash characteristically found on the palms, fingers and the feet. This manifests as small and itchy, fluid-filled blisters. The cause is unknown, and the condition often comes and goes, with episodes occurring mostly in warm weather. The blisters appear to be "deep-seated" because of the skin thickness in the palms, and in severe cases blisters merge and look like large blisters. Redness is usually absent or mild.
Doctors recommend using soaks with drying agents, topical steroids, and oral steroids for severe cases to control symptoms. Chronic and severe cases may be treated with ultraviolet light therapy or phototherapy done by a dermatologist. For self-care, one should avoid irritants, use with mild soaps or cleansers and frequently apply thick emollient creams or petroleum jelly to the hands and feet.
Pitted keratolysis - This skin condition affects the soles of the feet and, sometimes, the palms of the hands. Caused by bacterial infection, it may give you an unpleasant odor. The most common affected areas include the pressure-bearing areas on the, especially the heels and other areas of the soles and palms. Lesions appear as white patches with shallow pits on the superficial layers of skin. These pits may be occasionally itchy or even painful.
Treatment involves minimizing moisture in the feet by wearing absorbent socks made of cotton and changing them frequently. Wool socks can also wick moisture away from your foot. You should also wash the feet daily with antibacterial soap or cleanser. You can also try drying the feet with a hairdryer after washing them, applying antiperspirant to the soles daily, using sandals instead of tight-fitting, occlusive shoes, and avoiding the use of the same shoes two days in a row.
Athlete's foot (Tinea Pedis or ringworm) - This is the most common superficial fungal infection in the skin of the foot, which may be passed to other humans by direct contact or through contaminated towels, locker room floors, other objects or the soil. Another type of athlete's foot infection is called bullous tinea pedis, which appears as painful, itchy blisters on the ball and/or arch of the foot. The worst form of fungal foot infection is called ulcerative tinea pedis, which appears as painful blisters, with pus and shallow ulcers or open sores. This condition often occurs in people with diabetes or in those with weak immune systems.
The diagnosis of athlete's foot is confirmed by laboratory examination. Treatment consists of topical antifungal creams or lotions and antifungal drugs. The infection usually goes away in 4-6 weeks with effective treatment. For home care, wash your feet every day, drying them with a towel or a hair dryer if possible. To prevent spread or contamination, use a separate towel for your feet, and take care not to share this towel with other persons. Wear wool or cotton socks, changing them at least once a day if they are damp. Avoid wearing rubber or vinyl shoes, and if possible, wear sandals often. Apply antifungal foot powder every day. Avoid walking barefoot in locker rooms or public pools or showers.
Sweaty sock syndrome - This condition also called Juvenile plantar dermatosis is characterized by shiny, scaly, and red patches on the skin on the soles of children and teenagers. The cause is unknown, although the alternating moist and dry condition of the feet may contribute. This is a chronic condition that may last for about three years and goes away as the child reaches puberty. The skin appears tight and smooth, but dry and scaly in spite of heavy sweating. Painful cracks or fissures may occasionally be present.
People who are taking certain medications to treat some medical conditions also experience itchy hands and feet. This itchiness is usually a side effect of drugs. A person may also be allergic to the medication, and skin rashes or hives may appear.
Identification of the offending medication must be done and consultation with a doctor for advice on these side effects must be considered.
Persistent itchiness in the hands and feet may be a sign of Crohn's disease, chronic kidney disease or liver failure. Scarring and inflammation of the liver associated with fatty liver disease can make the body itch, beginning with the palms and soles. Itchy palms may also be associated with thyroid disorders (hypo- or hyperthyroidism). Other diseases like cancer of the blood and the lymphatic tissues may manifest these symptoms, as well as nutritional deficiencies marked by a lack of vitamins B1, B6 and B12.
Proper diagnosis and treatment of the underlying condition are necessary before symptoms may be alleviated.
New research indicates that chronic stress and anxiety can lead to itching of the hands and feet and other body parts. High stress levels can also lead to worsening of existing itchy skin problems.