We use the hands for a lot of everyday tasks. Itching on the fingertips can thus prove very limiting. It is not uncommon for other symptoms such as swelling, rash, and burning to accompany fingertips itching. Now, what causes itchy fingertips? Here is a breakdown of possible causes along with tips on how to treat and keep your fingers feeling their best.
What Does Itchy Fingertips Mean?
- 1 What Does Itchy Fingertips Mean?
- 2 What Causes Itchy Fingertips
- 3 References
Itchy fingertips usually mean that the skin around your fingers has been exposed to an irritant, allergenic, or infectious agent. It can also be indicative of a bug bite.
The skin has many itch receptors. These trigger an itching sensation when potentially harmful substances come into contact with your skin.
Itching, in turn, elicits the urge to scratch and in so doing, you scrape off the offensive substance. In some cases, however, itching occur as a symptom of a skin disease or a systemic disease affecting the entire body, e.g., diabetes.
What Causes Itchy Fingertips
With that broad view of the meaning of itchy fingertips, let us now take a look at some specific factors that can cause itching on fingertips:
1. Contact Dermatitis
The fingers are constantly exposed to different environmental and occupational elements. This exposure makes them vulnerable to damage. Itchy fingertips are a common symptom of contact dermatitis. The term is used to refer to skin inflammation resulting from contact with substances that aggravate the skin. There are two categories of contact dermatitis, which are:
Irritant Contact Dermatitis
Irritant contact dermatitis can affect anyone. It occurs when a skin damaging material – called an irritant – comes into contact with and irritate or inflame the skin.
Common irritants include alkaline substances, acids, detergents and soaps, organic dust, solvents, bleach, and other industrial and household chemicals.
Harmless substances such as water and sweat can also act as irritants when left in the hands for so long. The ensuing irritation often manifests itself in itchy fingertips – or any other part of the skin subjected to the irritant.
Allergic Contact Dermatitis
Also a possible cause of itchy fingertips, allergic contact dermatitis, only affects people with a hypersensitive immune system. The immune system of such individuals mistakes ordinarily harmless substances for – and reacts to them as – harmful substances.
Contact with such allergy-inducing substances (allergens) triggers a series of reactions that produce a chemical called histamine, leading to itching in the affected area of the skin. It is also common for the itching to have an accompanying red rash. The affected fingers may even get swollen and stiff, or have a burning sensation.
Among the allergens that may be to blame for itchy fingertips include plants such as poison ivy, poison sumac, and poison oak; animal hair; latex gloves; some metals, e.g., nickel; and acrylates in artificial nails. Yes, if your fingertips suddenly got itchy after getting your nails done, you now know the potential allergen.
Acrylic nails are known to trigger allergic reactions in fingertips of not only the people who use them but also manicurists and nail beauticians who work with them.
How to Treat Fingertips Itching Caused By Contact Dermatitis
Eliminating the irritant or allergen constitutes the most significant part of contact dermatitis treatment. Try to determine an activity that you do (or did) before the onset of the itching, and you just might narrow down to your trigger. For acrylate nails, for example, you will want to start by removing them.
In the meantime, you can get relief from the itch and soothe the red rash by applying calamine lotion. An oatmeal bath is also an excellent home remedy. To reduce the itching caused specifically by poison ivy, sumac, or oak, washing your fingertips with lukewarm, soapy water goes a long way.
For the burning sensation in the fingertips, painkillers such as Ibuprofen can be of help.
If the symptoms don’t go away quickly, you should seek the attention of your doctor. The same goes for itching of fingertips that seem to spread to other parts of the body. Your doctor may prescribe oral or topical medications to treat the symptoms.
2. Dyshidrotic Eczema
Itchy blisters on fingertips may be indicative of a chronic skin condition known as dyshidrotic eczema, dyshidrosis, or pompholyx. Yes, it is possible to have eczema on fingertips.
Dyshidrosis manifests itself as little, fluid-filled itchy blisters on the fingers, palms, or soles of your feet. A red rash may accompany the blisters, but this is not always present. As the blisters heal and dry out (usually in 3 weeks’ time or so), your skin may look scaly.
Dyshidrotic eczema tends to affect women more than men. The exact cause of dyshidrotic eczema is not known. It is however commonly seen in patients with similar skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis (atopic eczema), and allergies such as hay fever.
Other possible risk factors for dyshidrosis include mental stress, exposure to metals such as nickel and cobalt, and frequent handwashing.
Treatment of Dyshidrosis
There is no cure for dyshidrosis. It is recurrent. If fingertips itching occurs as a result of dyshidrotic eczema, however, you can control the symptoms by applying a moisturizing cream or ointment.
Go for a product that is alcohol, dye, and fragrance-free. If the itching is intolerable, try applying calamine lotion or an over-the-counter cortisone cream. OTC antihistamines such as Cetirizine may also soothe the itching.
Home remedies such as cold compresses and witch hazel have also been reported to be effective for alleviation of the itching associated with finger eczema.
Persistently itchy fingertips are often treated with prescription medications (such as prednisone), topical creams (such as pimecrolimus), or immune-suppressive injections.
3. Itchy Fingertips from Diabetes
Diabetes can also manifest itself in itchy fingertips, says the Right Diagnosis website. This is usually attributed to factors such as dry skin, poor circulation, and yeast infection.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, people suffering from diabetes tend to be particularly vulnerable to skin infections. These infections are marked by an itchy rash, and sometimes small fluid-filled bumps, along with dry, scaly skin. You may also experience a white cottage-cheese-like discharge in the affected area of skin. The surrounding skin may also feel hot and swollen.
Common trouble spots include the area around your nails, between your toes, and the scalp.
For mild itching, switch to mild soap and moisturize the area frequently with a good lotion or cream. Some people with diabetes also reported getting relief from sticking their fingers in cold water or ice cubes. Severe itching warrants the attention of your doctor so does symptoms of infection such as discharge and skin that feel hot to the touch.
Itchy fingertips may also be an indication of a minor injury as happens when you stub your finger or have it caught in a shutting door.
5. Insect Bites
Insect bites can also cause your fingertips to itch. This can, for example, happen when a mosquito feasts on a finger while you sleep. According to Bhupinder Kaur, MD, a dermatologist practicing in Gurgaon, India, insect bites cause an irritation of the nerve endings in the skin, or neurodermatitis, leading to a bothersome itch-scratch-itch cycle.
6. Other less Likely but Possible Causes of Itchy Fingertips
- Dry Skin. Although a less likely cause, dry skin may be to blame for itchy fingertips with no rash.
- Food allergy. Some people develop itchy fingertips after eating dairy products such as ice-cream and cheese (including the cheese in pizza). An elimination diet may help you determine the culprit food.
- Adverse reaction to medication. An itchy rash on the skin may be an indication of side-effect to a medication you just started using. It is however unlikely that the itching remains confined to the fingertips without spreading to other parts of the body.
- American Academy of Dermatology: Diabetes: 12 Warning Signs That Appear On Your Skin
- Australian Family Physician (AFP): An Itchy Rash on the Fingertips
- Mayo Clinic: Dyshidrosis
- Medhelp.org: Feet and Hand Itch: Nighttime Only