Swollen and Itchy Fingers: Causes and Treatments

Your fingers come in physical contact with multiple things in the environment. They allow you to feel and touch, feed yourself and carry multiple other tasks of daily living that are needed for your social, physiological and economic requirements. However, your fingers may become swollen and itchy due to multiple reasons such as allergy, dermatitis, chilblains or frostbite, an insect sting ,etc. The skin present on fingers is more sensitive; hence, your discomfort and pain due to these symptoms may be heightened.

What Are the Causes of Swollen Itchy Fingers?

    1. Poison Ivy, Poison Sumac and Poison Oak

These all are plants which cause an irritating, temporary rash on coming in contact with the skin.  The rash is referred to as allergic contact dermatitis as the rash results by getting in contact with a substance from which you develop an allergy. All the three plants contain plant oil urushiol that triggers the rash. If you are sensitive to urushiol, you will develop a rash when this plant oil touches the skin of your fingers.

You can either touch the plant directly or have indirect contact by touching gardening tools, pets, and other objects, which had touched the plant directly.

Symptoms may last from 1-2 weeks and include:

  • Rash on your fingers
  • Swelling on your fingers
  • Itching
  • Red patches or streaks
  • Blisters which may leak fluid and form crusts later
  • Burning sensation and inflammation

The diagnosis is made by the presence of characteristic symptoms following outdoor activity in a field or forest.


Self care for mild symptoms of swollen itchy fingers includes:

  • Wash the area of contact using mild soap and water as early as possible.
  • Wash all contaminated shoes, clothes, tools, socks and toys.
  • You can apply cool compresses during blistering phase.
  • Your physician may recommend application of a topical steroidal cream on the affected area.
  • You can use calamine lotion to soothe itching; however, avoid products containing antihistamines or anesthetics.
  • To relieve itching, you can apply a mixture of water and baking soda to the affected area.

Call your physician for the following:

  • Severe swelling, itching or blistering
  • Fever
  • If the blisters gets infected
  • If a rash develops on other areas of the body apart from fingers

How to prevent the allergies from these plant:

  • Poison oak and poison oak have a structure of triple leaf, learn to recognize and avoid having any contact with them when working outdoors.
  • Cover your body parts when camping, working or hiking in forests or around areas which have shrubs; wear gloves, boots,etc.
  • Ask your physician about OTC skin products which contain an ingredient that act as barrier against urushiol such as bentoquatam if you are working outdoors.

    2. Insect Stings

You may develop swollen itchy fingers after getting stung by an insect such as yellow jacket, bee, wasp, fire ant or hornet on your fingers. Insect stings may trigger a mild allergic reaction causing the following symptoms at the site of sting:

  • Redness
  • Pain
  • Small spots like pimples
  • Swelling ranging from mild to moderate
  • Warmth
  • Itching

Insect stings may cause severe allergic reactions, referred to as anaphylactic reactions, which are rare. These are considered as medical emergencies.

Treatment of mild symptoms includes:

If you have ring on finger, remove it immediately. If you are stung by bee, try to remove the stinger left by the bee within 30-40 seconds so that you don’t receive more venom. Scrape the stinger and sac gently using your fingernail or an object with a stiff edge such as a credit card.

Wash the area with water and soap. Apply an ointment such as calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream. Cover the affected area using a sterile, dry bandage.

To reduce swelling, apply cold compress or ice pack. You can take OTC oral antihistamines to relieve swelling and itching. This medicine should not be given to pregnant females and children below 2 years of age. You may also take a NSAID pain killer to relieve pain.

  1. Contact Dermatitis

Swelling and itching in fingers may also occur due to irritant contact dermatitis, which occurs when the skin is aggravated by repeatedly coming in contact with a harsh substance. Common irritants are detergents, soaps, and bleach. Swollen itchy fingers may be caused due to allergy to several things such as hair dyes, fragrances, rubber, metal, skin care products and formaldehyde (which is added as a preservative in multiple products). Even perspiration and water may act as irritant in some people and cause dermatitis. Symptoms of red or pink, itchy rash on the fingers, which may also be swelling.


  • Wash your hands with water and mild soap.
  • You can immerse your hands in cold water for a couple of minutes.
  • If your symptoms have begun after using any new skin product such as a cream or lotion, discontinue its use.
  • Avoid touching harsh chemicals such as bleach directly with your fingers. Instead wear gloves before handling them.
  • Apply a hypoallergenic lotion or cream on your hands.


  1. Chilblains (Chill Burns)

Chilblains are a type of vasculopathy that occurs usually on the extremities, ears or nose due to exposure to cold. They appear shortly after a predisposed individual is exposed to damp and cold climate. Skin capillaries are damaged due to cold, causing swollen itchy fingers, redness and inflammation. Symptoms worsen if the person goes into a warm area. They commonly occur in females, elderly and children.

Self Care

  • Gently re-warm your skin. Do not rub, massage or apply heat directly
  • Keep your skin warm and dry
  • Apply some lotion to decrease itching
  • Avoid scratching

How to prevent chilblains

  • Dress appropriately in winters. Wear gloves to safeguard your hands from cold exposure.
  • Keep active to improve circulation.
  • Avoid exposure to cold weather.
  • Avoid sudden change of temperature. Gradually warm your areas that have been exposed to cold.
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