Medical explanations for hand itching vary from mild causes such as poison ivy, allergic reactions, or dry skin to more severe conditions like nerve disorders, cirrhosis, or diabetes.
Excessive hand itching can also be the result of side effects from cancer medications. In most cases, hand itching is easily diagnosed and remedied with topical treatments or environmental adjustments, like reducing the use of harsh soaps or wearing gloves.
Why Do My Hands Itch?
The superstitious explanation is more optimistic depending on whether the itching occurs in the right or left hand and it is almost always associated with money. Rooted in myth, the financial aspect of hand itching is pervasive in most cultures, so much so that it has influenced common colloquialisms in several languages worldwide, including English, and expressions associating hand itching and financial gain are common.
While most hand itching is common and brief, you may experience severe or chronic hand itching that is not easy to cure. If this is the case, or if you suspect a more serious underlying condition may cause the itching, it is best to seek medical treatment from a medical professional who can properly diagnose and treat your ailment.
The Superstition Behind Hand Itching
Given how important our hands are to our daily lives, cultural superstitions surrounding them are almost universal, including those involving itching. Most folklore associates right palm itching with a financial windfall, and left palm itching with monetary losses.
Unlike other superstitions, which may differ based on tradition and geography, the belief that itching of the palms is associated with money remains consistent.
The superstition surrounding hand itching is deeply ingrained in modern culture, so much so that many everyday colloquialisms reference this connection between money and palm itching. Most people would understand the expression, “He has itchy palms,” to mean “he is money hungry,” as the close association between itching hands and finances is well-known. Still, it may leave you wondering about the origins are of this superstition.
Origin of the Hand Itching Myth
Like most myths, the true origin is unknown, but it is believed to have come from the Saxon and Celt belief that silver cured all diseases. In the Middle Ages, the German Saxons settling in Great Britain found that silver bullions rubbed into itching palms relieved symptoms; hence the superstition was born. Given the later association between colloidal silver and scabies, this cure may have been a logical one.
Greeks and Romans subsequently adopted this myth, adding their belief that the right hand is luckier than the left. This solidified the myth: if your right hand is itchy, it means that money will come to you. If your left hand is itchy, you will soon be paying it out. Itching in both palms indicates that both are likely to happen soon.
Some people believe that the severity of the itch is directly commensurate with the amount of money you’ll be receiving or paying out; the greater the itch, the larger the impending windfall or debt.
Hand Itching in India
India has a slightly different take on the hand itching superstition. A culture steeped in hand-related myths, it’s no surprise that itching has a spiritual explanation. The hands are one of the body’s most essential features, and it’s associated with dining, bathroom usage, greetings, and religion. Both Hindus and Buddhists associate palm chakras with other vital body organs and affiliate this part of the body with healing.
Several Indian hand superstitions inform their cultural traditions. These include only greeting other people with the right hand because the left is unclean, not cutting their fingernails on Saturdays to prevent bad luck, and never using the fingers to point to another human being. While breaking these cultural norms is considered taboo for Indians, they famously forgive foreigners who may be unaware of this etiquette.
Hindu tradition believes that the right side of the body is pure and holy, while the left is profane. Because a woman’s place is to the left of a male, the itching myth is reversed, and the right-hand itching only indicates financial gain for men. Itchy left hand suggests a financial gain for women, and itching of the right foreshadows paying a debt.
Physical Causes of Hand Itching
While it may be preferential to believe that itching in the right palm means the monetary gain is on its way, there may be a medical explanation. As with the Saxons, scabies could be the culprit, although it is more likely that eczema, an allergic reaction, or poison ivy are responsible. In these cases, simple creams (some containing colloidal silver) or other topical treatments could resolve the issue.
Itching hands can also develop as a side-effect to diseases such as diabetes, in which case the symptoms are referred to as diabetic neuropathy. Damaged nerve fibers in the hands and feet stem from chronic low or high blood sugar, at which point the body develops an inflammatory chemical called cytokines. In people with diabetes, liver and kidney issues are also a likely cause of hand itching.
More serious conditions can also cause the palms and fingers to itch, including side effects of diabetes as well as certain nerve disorders, including the carpal tunnel.
In some cases, an autoimmune disorder called primary biliary cholangitis (PBC) is to blame, and aside from itching palms, symptoms may include nausea, bone pain, and jaundice. PBC is more common in women and often treated with prescription medications.
How to Stop Hand Itching
Preventative measures are often the most effective way to treat hand itching, particularly when allergic reactions are to blame. Itchiness usually appears 48 to 96 hours after contact with the allergen and may take several exposures. Common irritants include latex gloves, soap, metal jewelry, soil, and highly chlorinated water. If you’re unsure what the allergen is, you should seek the advice of a dermatologist.
The most common cause of hand itching is dermatitis, or dry skin, characterized by a feeling of tightness, flaking, scaling, peeling, and occasionally deep cracks in the palms and fingers. Dry skin is usually environmental and can result from sunburn, excessive cold, or repeated handwashing with harsh soaps and hot water. In these cases, moisturizers or covering the hands with gloves can effectively remedy symptoms.
You can control other environmental factors that contribute to hand itching through proper identification. For residents of excessively dry climates, a regular moisturizing routine and caution in excessive heat can reduce symptoms. For those whose dry skin is caused by eczema, relief can be achieved through soaking the hands in cold water or regularly applying a cold compress. In most cases, stress can exacerbate these symptoms.
While the old wives’ tale maintains that itching hands means money is on its way, chances are there is a medical explanation. Itching hands caused by dry skin or common allergens do not usually require professional intervention and is usually treatable at home.
Advancements in science have made it possible to easily diagnose and treat chronic hand itching without silver bullions, so a doctor should deal with severe cases.