If you suffer from itchy hands and feet, you realize how much of a burden this condition can be! Itchiness in the hands/feet can be a simple matter of dry skin, especially considering the amount of wear and tear these particular body parts are subjected to on a daily basis. If you haven’t had success in your efforts to soothe the itching with lotion, hydrocortisone cream, soaking in cool water, and other typical dry skin remedies, you might be dealing with an underlying condition in which dry skin is the symptom, not the disorder. The four sections below explain a few conditions that are red-flagged by the symptoms of itchy hands/feet and contain treatment and prevention information.
Allergic Contact Dermatitis
Allergic contact dermatitis may sound a bit formidable but in actuality it’s not that bad. Allergic contact dermatitis is simply a condition in which the skin has an adverse reaction to a substance or substances because the body’s immune system flags these elements as being harmful to the body. As is the case with most allergies, the allergen usually does not pose a genuine threat to the human body in normal circumstances, however an overzealous, hyperactive immune system flags the allergen as being dangerous to the body and launches a defensive strategy in the form of allergic dermatitis. The first symptom to crop up with this condition is usually itchy skin. Your entire body could be affected or only a limited portion, such as the hands/feet. The skin will usually begin to take on a pink or red hue and become swollen, especially if puss-filled blisters develop. These symptoms can pop up directly after contact with an allergen or there could be a delayed reaction that occurs anywhere from 24 to 72 hours after exposure.
If you have such a reaction after contact with an allergen, you can bring the itchiness under control by using an over the counter antihistamine product. Antihistamine reduces the body’s ability to release histamine which is the chemical responsible for allergy-related itching. If you have a severe reaction you might be better off treating the affected areas with a steroid cream, which is highly effective in such a circumstance. In order to obtain a steroid cream you would have to get a prescription from your doctor. Unfortunately there is no cure for allergies.
There are therapeutic techniques that involve lessening one’s physical reaction to an allergen by slowly increasing exposure to the substance, but this doesn’t always work for dermatitis patients and it can take many years to see any measure of improvement in one’s condition. The only way to truly prevent a flare-up like this is to avoid contact with the allergen. This will involve using a process of trial and elimination on your part so that you can find out what it is that you are allergic to. Common triggers include rubber, nickel, and chemicals used to dye and perfume products like lotion, body wash, and hand soap. Harsh chemicals, which your body might have an adverse reaction to, can also be found in household cleaning products and detergents.
Dyshidrotic dermatitis is a form of eczema that only affects the hands and/or feet. Doctors haven’t been able to find out why this condition occurs, but there does seem to be a strong connection to genetics, as those who have a family history of the condition are much more likely to develop dyshidrotic eczema than individuals whose family history is absent of the disorder. The condition usually doesn’t crop up in individuals younger than age 10, although it has happened before. Dyshidrotic eczema is characterized by extreme itchiness of the hands, fingers (especially the sides and areas where the fingers connect to the hand), and feet. The skin will soon become puffy and develop small collections of blisters that tend to be clear or yellow-ish in color. These blisters have often been referred to as “tapioca blisters” because they can be so deeply formed under the skin that they take on the appearance of tapioca bits. The skin may turn red but it isn’t a typical symptom associated with this form of eczema. Blistering can even occur around fingernails and toenails and may even affect the nail bed, causing nail yellowing and brittleness.
If you believe that you have dyshidrotic dermatitis, you may find that the use of over the counter products does little good for the treatment of an existing outbreak. Your doctor may prescribe an oral steroid medication which can provide quick, effective relief of symptoms. He or she may also suggest the use of topical steroid cream to bring down the swelling/blistering and reduce the itching sensation. You might also consider speaking to a dermatologist about trying ultraviolet light therapy, which has proven to help reduce symptoms caused by dyshidrotic dermatitis. To prevent future outbreaks, consider limiting contact with chemical agents and other skin irritants. Also, you might want to consider applying emollient skin care products to your hands and feet each day to prevent moisture loss and to serve as a protective layer against potential irritants.
Cholestasis is a condition that is often associated with mid to late pregnancy, although in reality it can happen to anyone. Cholestasis is a disorder that involves blockage in the liver. One of the tasks that your liver is responsible for carrying out is to produce bile. The bile travels through ducts and empties out into the small intestine. When any portion of the duct becomes blocked, the bile is unable to reach its destination and therefore builds up inside the liver. Eventually the bile will make its way into the bloodstream which will cause the development of several external symptoms. Itchy skin, particularly of the hands/feet, is one of the very early symptoms of liver trouble, followed by yellowing of the skin and of the whites of the eyes, light stools, and darkened urine color.
The immediate treatment for cholestasis is to take a prescription medication that causes salts to bind to the bile. This bond will cause the body to flush out excess bile rather than reabsorb it and send it into the blood stream. If the condition is pregnancy-related then there is a good chance that the body will self-correct after the baby is born. Outside of pregnancy, it will be necessary to figure out what is causing the bile duct to become compressed or blocked and to correct the issue. Some causes include drug use, cirrhosis of the liver, hepatitis, gallstones, inflammation in a nearby organ, and a neighboring tumor.
A food allergy may be another option worth considering. Food allergies are present in about 15 million Americans, not including the individuals who aren’t even aware that they have an allergy. It may seem odd to have a food allergy go unnoticed, but not all allergic reactions involve life-threatening symptoms like anaphylaxis. Skin irritation, itchiness, and dryness can occur, as can hives, nausea/vomiting, sneezing, stomach pain, diarrhea, stuffy or runny nose, and feeling as though one has to swallow around something in the throat.
Common food allergies include milk, eggs, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, soy, and shellfish. If you feel that you may have an undiagnosed food allergy then you can always put yourself to the test by exposing yourself to one common allergen at a time. Give your body a week to reset before moving on to the next trial. If you do find yourself developing symptoms to one allergen, allow the symptoms to pass and clear out your system but don’t be afraid to test other allergens, too, as you may be affected by more than one. Avoidance of the allergen in all forms is the best way to reduce flare-ups.