Itchy hands and feet can be caused by dry skin and different conditions, including eczema, allergic reactions, psoriasis, diabetes, and scabies. Some causes can be more concerning, requiring an appropriate diagnosis and treatment from a healthcare provider.
This article will cover the various reasons you may experience itchy hands and feet, how to treat, stop, and prevent itching, and when to see a healthcare provider.
Causes of Itchy Hands and Feet
While regularly occurring dry skin can cause itchy hands and feet, other causes, such as eczema, allergic reactions, diabetes, and cirrhosis, can be more concerning.
Dyshidrotic eczema is a skin condition in which small fluid-filled blisters form on your hands and feet, causing the skin to crack, scale, and flake. The exact cause of dyshidrotic eczema is not fully known although it often develops from other types of eczema, allergic reactions, and fungal infections. Blisters that form from dyshidrotic eczema can be itchy and painful but typically resolve over time as the blisters dry up and the skin peels and falls off.
Feet Eczema: Treatment, Triggers, and Lifestyle Changes
Allergic contact dermatitis occurs when your body initiates an immune system response and causes an allergic reaction when your skin comes in contact with specific allergens. These allergens may include:
- Topical medications
- Plants (poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac)
Allergic contact dermatitis results in red, itchy skin plaques.
Complications from diabetes, a condition that results from increased blood glucose (sugar) and decreased insulin sensitivity, include various skin disorders. These include:
- Necrobiosis lipoidica: Bumps and patches of hardened and swollen skin that is itchy and painful
- Eruptive xanthomatosis: Tender and itchy clusters of pimples
- Skin infections from delayed healing, can cause a hot, red, itchy, swollen rash
- General increased dryness and itchiness of the skin
Palmoplantar psoriasis is an autoimmune inflammatory condition of the skin that causes red and itchy skin plaques that affect approximately 5% of people with psoriasis. Palmoplantar psoriasis is specifically localized to the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet.
Impetigo is a bacterial skin infection that causes red, itchy sores anywhere on the skin, commonly around the mouth and nose or on the arms, hands, legs, and feet. The sores break open and ooze clear pus that dries into crusty yellow scabs.
Reactions to Medication
Itching can result as a side effect of some medications, including aspirin, opioids, medications to treat high blood pressure, and chemotherapy treatment for cancer.
Scabies, also called sarcoptic mange, is a skin infection caused by mites that burrow under the skin. Symptoms of scabies include intense itching and a pimple-like rash. The scabies mite is typically spread by direct, prolonged, skin-to-skin contact with a person who has scabies. The palms of the hands and soles of the feet are often affected by scabies in young children.
Cirrhosis, a degenerative condition that causes scarring of the liver, is a complication of chronic liver disease. Long-term itching is often a symptom of chronic liver disease, and while the exact cause is not fully understood, it is thought to result from increased levels of lysophosphatidic acid and bile salts that accumulate under the skin.
Nerve disorders that cause inflammation, irritation, and compression of the peripheral nerves that travel to the hands and feet can cause conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome (compression of the median nerve, affecting the hand and wrist) and tarsal tunnel syndrome (compression of the posterior tibial nerve, affecting the foot). While numbness, tingling, weakness, and pins-and-needles sensations are the most common symptoms, itching in the hands and feet can also develop due to skin irritation.
Why Do I Get Itchy Hands and Feet at Night?
Decreased stimulation and distractions that occur during the day can intensify—or make more noticeable—pain and itchiness at night as the body calms down to attempt to sleep.
How Do I Get My Hands and Feet to Stop Itching?
Treatments for itchy hands and feet include the following:
- Cool compress or ice pack: Applying a cool compress or ice pack to your skin can help relieve inflammation and decrease itching. You can use a cool, wet towel and wrap it around your hands or feet for 10–20 minutes to help relieve itching.Wrap an ice pack in a towel to avoid placing it directly on your skin.
- Topical corticosteroids: Topical steroids can be applied to the skin to decrease itching, especially from allergic contact dermatitis. Common topical steroids used to treat itching include triamcinolone 0.1% and clobetasol 0.05%.
- Topical pain medications: Lidocaine or creams that contain menthol or camphor (i.e., Bengay, Biofreeze) can help decrease the sensitivity of nerve endings in the skin, which can help decrease pain and itching.
- Moisturize skin: Dry skin increases itching due to lack of proper skin hydration Moisturizing your skin can help decrease dryness and associated itching.
- Ultraviolet (UV) light therapy: UV light therapy, called phototherapy, involves exposing affected skin areas to ultraviolet light two to three times a week. Phototherapy is primarily used to treat pain and itching from skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema when other treatment methods fail to improve symptoms.
- Antihistamines: Antihistamines are used to decrease the activity of receptors for histamine, a chemical released during allergic reactions. Antihistamine medication can be taken orally to decrease inflammation throughout the body from allergies and relieve itching.
- Oatmeal bath: Soaking in warm water with oatmeal can help soothe irritated and dry skin. For maximum effectiveness, grind 1 cup of oats in a food processor and add them to a bath of warm water. Allow your body to soak for 10–20 minutes.
- Condition-specific treatments: Certain causes of itching require specific treatments, such as oral or topical antibiotics to treat impetigo or scabicide medication to treat scabies.
Preventing Itchy Hands and Feet
There are a few things you can do to help prevent itchy hands and feet, including:
- Avoid scratching itchy hands and feet. Scratching can cause breaks in the skin, which can increase the risk of infection. This is especially important on the hands, which come in contact with a lot of surfaces throughout the day, and on the feet due to friction from wearing shoes.
- Avoid triggering substances and materials can help prevent reactions that cause or worsen itching. These include synthetic fabrics, dyes, metals, gel hand sanitizers, and any known allergens.
- Protect your hands with cotton gloves can also help decrease irritation and exposure to triggers.
When to See a Healthcare Provider
You should schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider if you have been experiencing significant itchy hands or feet that cause a great deal of discomfort throughout the day, or if you develop skin changes on your hands or feet, such as rashes, discolored or thickened patches, or pimples. Redness, warmth, swelling, and pain are inflammatory signs that also warrant medical attention to determine an underlying cause.
Itchy hands and feet, while normal to occur from dry skin, can also be caused by more serious conditions, including dyshidrotic eczema, allergic reactions, diabetes, impetigo, reactions to medications, scabies, cirrhosis, and peripheral nerve disorders.
At-home remedies like cool compresses, ice packs, topical steroids and pain medication, moisturizers, oatmeal baths, and antihistamine treatment can help relieve symptoms although ultraviolet light therapy, antibiotics, or other types of medications may be needed depending on the underlying cause of your itchiness.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are itchy hands and feet a symptom of COVID-19?
Some people who have tested positive for COVID-19 have reported itchy lesions on their hands and feet that resemble chilblains, an inflammatory skin condition that develops in response to repeated exposure to cold air.
How do you know if your itchy hands and feet are caused by diabetes?
Your itchy hands and feet can be caused by diabetes if you develop darkened, discolored, or thickened skin patches or pimples in conjunction with a diagnosis of diabetes confirmed through elevated blood sugar levels.
At-home remedies like cool compresses, ice packs, topical steroids and pain medication, moisturizers, oatmeal baths, and antihistamine treatment can help relieve symptoms although ultraviolet light therapy, antibiotics, or other types of medications may be needed depending on the underlying cause of your itchiness.How do I stop my hands and feet from itching? ›
- Apply a cold, wet cloth or ice pack to the skin that itches. Do this for about five to 10 minutes or until the itch subsides.
- Take an oatmeal bath. ...
- Moisturize your skin. ...
- Apply topical anesthetics that contain pramoxine.
- Apply cooling agents, such as menthol or calamine.
Dry skin is a common cause of itchy skin without a rash. In most cases, dry skin is mild. It can result from environmental conditions, such as low humidity and hot or cold weather. It's also sometimes caused by activities that can decrease moisture in the skin, such as bathing in hot water.What allergy causes itchy palms and feet? ›
Eczema: Also called atopic dermatitis, eczema is a chronic condition causing itching and swelling of the skin, including on the hands and feet. Allergies: Allergies can cause runny noses and itchy eyes and can also affect the skin on our hands and feet, producing redness and rashes.Why are my hands and feet itching like crazy at night? ›
Itchy Skin At Night Could Also Be an Underlying Health Issue
Obviously, an underlying skin condition, such as eczema, psoriasis, or hives, can cause excessive itching at night. Ditto for pest infestations, including bed bugs and scabies, which can be worse at night when the mites are more active, says Dr.