Itch and swelling of the fingers, especially if it tends to come and go, usually can be traced to specific, preventable allergies. Here are some of the more common culprits:
- Nickel. About 2 percent of men and about 10 percent of women have allergies to nickel. These allergies can cause itching and swelling of fingers and also hand eczema, burning mouth syndrome, or a condition that causes red raised areas of skin known as lichen planus. Allergies to nickel are more common in people who also have autoimmune diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, or Sjögren’s syndrome. There are medications for nickel allergies, but it is best simply to avoid contact with it. Nickel is found in "white gold," 9-karat gold, some wristwatch bands, studs for body piercings, plumbing fixtures, cupboard door handles, kitchen utensils, cutlery, metal teapots, scissors, needles, pins, thimbles, vacuum cleaners, flashlights, and bath plugs. Avoid prolonged contact with these items. Nickel-coated stainless steel is also a problem, but 24-karat gold and silver are safe. It also helps to avoid foods that contain high amounts of nickel, such as canned foods, especially acid canned foods, dried fruit, and nuts.
- Sometimes allergy to a different metal is the problem. Metals that often cause allergies include cobalt, copper, gold, silver, mercury, and titanium. Sun block usually contains titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. In addition to making the skin unnaturally white (or making black skin purplish), titanium can cause itchy, swollen fingers and noses. The solution is simply to avoid the metal that triggers the allergic reaction.
- Latex allergies can cause itchy, swollen fingers. Latex gloves can cause not just skin reactions in the hands but also systemic reactions, even anaphylactic shock. If you are allergic to tropical fruit, you are usually allergic to latex, and vice versa. The solution is avoiding latex.
- N -Isopropyl-N -phenyl-4-phenylenediamine (IPPD) is a problem chemical that shows up in the handles of shopping carts.
- Hand eczema, which is also known as vesciular palmoplantar eczema and can occur not just on the hands but also on the feet, is usually set off by a trigger. This trigger can be a detergent, a medication (especially Aspirin and oral contraceptives that are higher in progestin than in estrogen), fungal infections, bacterial infections, sweat (people tend to have more problems with itchy and swollen fingers during warm weather), sunlight (when hands are not protected against UV-A rays), cigarette smoke, or emotional stress. It helps to look for patterns in the problem so you can identify triggers and avoid them. If also helps to use a sunscreen that protects against UV-A rays when you go outdoors, especially in summer sun. These sunscreens contain the ingredient zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which themselves can set off other kinds of skin reactions even though they block UV-A sunlight, or "broad spectrum" sunscreen that doesn't list zinc or titanium as an ingredient. It's always a good idea to test a small area of skin the first time you use a new product, to make sure you are not sensitive to it.
- Scented, cooling, or "tingly" skin care products often contain balsam or other herbal ingredients to which some people are sensitive. If it smells good, or it's cooling or bracing, it can also cause itching and swelling on sensitive skin.
When some external factor sets off the skin reaction, the solution is avoidance. However, in women, itchy, swollen fingers can also be the result of internal hormonal changes. Itchy, swollen fingers tend to show up in the early years of menopause. This is usually a result of the body's making too much progesterone and not enough estrogen. Women and their doctors may decide that the full range of symptoms justifies short-term estrogen replacement therapy, but it's important to have a discussion about side effects before taking the drug.
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