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Brachioradial Pruritus: Intensely Itchy Arms

By HERWriter
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Intensely Itchy Arms From Brachioradial Pruritus Via Wikipedia

Brachioradial pruritus (BP) is a condition where the person experiences intense itching, burning and/or stinging to one or both arms. The itching often occurs between the shoulder and the elbow on the sides of the arms but can also extend up to the shoulders.

Scratching can make the itching feel worse, rather than bringing relief. Using ice packs is one treatment that may calm the itch.

Why brachioradial pruritus occurs is unclear. There are two basic mechanisms that are thought to be the cause of this uncontrollable itch.

The first is the solar hypothesis. It is thought that people who have had chronic sun exposure develop an allergic type of histamine response in their skin.

This theory receives some support from the fact that people usually report more left-sided symptom over right-sided. This could be explained by the sun shining more on the left arm while driving.

In South Africa, where drivers sit on the right side of the car, the incidence of BP more frequently affects the right arm. Symptoms also often are worse in the summer and improve in the fall.

The second hypothesis is that BP may be caused by a neuropathy (problem with the nerves), specifically some type of irritation or compression of the cervical nerves in the neck. Treatments for cervical arthritis have shown to improve those with the condition.

This type of itching is called a neuropathic itch. Impulses are sent due to hypersensitivity of the nerve fibers. Sometimes people feel both pain and itching, as well as some type of sensory disruption such as altered sensation in the area.

A 1987 study even suggested that BP may be caused by a combination of the two stating that, “brachioradial pruritus is a photoneurological disorder caused by sun-induced damage to nerve endings that results in pruritus and altered sensation in susceptible individuals.”2

Another dermatology blog suggests that exposure to wind may also contribute.3

However, there are critics to both main theories.

The solar critics point out that people’s faces get just as much sun as the arms, so why doesn’t one’s face develop this problem?

1)  Brachioradial Pruritus. Medscape. Retrieved August 13, 2016.  

2) Berny-Moreno , Joanna, Szepietowski  Jacek C.. Neuropathic itch caused by nerve root compression: brachioradial pruritus and notalgia paresthetica. Serbian Journal of Dermatology and Venereology 2009; 2: 68-72.

3) Thoughts about brachioradial pruritus.  The Online Journal of Community and Person-Centered Dermatology (OJCPCD). Retrieved August 13, 2016.  

Add a Comment71 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

i have been dealing with this for thirty years now, but my itch seems somewhat different. every year seems different. my itch is always above the elbow, my shoulders and this year the back of my neck, between the shoulders. but now it has moved to my left shoulder and upper arm. it always starts in august and lasts 2 or 3 months. ice and ice only is my only relief. early in the summer i don't itch and i'm in the pool a lot, but once i start to itch i can't let the sun hit my arms or it starts itching worse. if i had to deal with this all year i think i would put a gun to my head! thanks everyone for all your ideas.

September 17, 2016 - 4:12pm
EmpowHER Guest

It is so frustrating to try to tell someone or even my doctor & they look at me like I'm crazy! I've had one doctor tell me that I am crazy that I need a shrink to get to the bottom of why I am making myself itch!!! I said if it was in my head I would be the first person to say I need a shrink ,because this itching is driving me nuts!!! I work in construction so I itch all summer long, I get some relief efforts by middle of winter, I have scars from where I itch myself open at night, not realizing I'm doing it!! Please tell me how do I get a doctor to listen to me??? I feel like sometines ripping my skin off , I know that wouldn't help but I just can't take it anymore!!!

September 13, 2016 - 2:11pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

Gabapentin was the only thing that worked for me until
recently when I attended physiotherapy for a pulled muscle
In shoulder.. I was given neck exercises which seemed to
stop the tingling/ burning / itching in the nerve endings.. I have
to do them daily or it comes back.. I think bad posture
contributes to this as does sun exposure.. It's always triggered
after I come back from a foreign holiday.. Hope this helps.. Helen

October 17, 2016 - 7:40pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

Hi, it's me again.
OK, my wife and I replaced our foam/latex/rubber mattress for a brand new spring type with a different underlay material. Apart from now getting an even better sleep, $2,500 later the mattress (and removing the electric blanket) made no effect on my itchy arms. So I went to my doctor who after a while chatting and asking me questions diagnosed it as a form of echzema.
He prescribed to me a cream ointment called ADVANTAN 0.1% 15G that should be applied twice daily and very sparingly because it is quite potent. My chemist where I usually go to buy other medicines said it is the best product available on the marketplace. I have been using it for several days now and it works like a charm - itching sensation completely gone and my arms are now repairing themselves and the red irritated skin is gradually disappearing slowly. You cannot just buy this product over the counter and you need to see your doctor and get him/her to prescribe it for you if your symptoms are the same as mine. I really hope it works for you and all the other sufferers having the same problems. My doctor also said avoid stress, get good sleep and rest and eat healthy food and exercise a bit. A healthy appetite leads to a healthy body and ensure you eat your fruits daily. He said DON'T scratch the area as this makes the symptoms worse. Apply some cold packs and don't have hot showers on the affected areas even though it might feel nice - apply some cold water to the areas after a warm shower to soothe the itch.
Good luck and let me know how you get along now. You can Google the data sheet and read the product for safety purposes. Also please don't try and self diagnose - go and see a doctor. That's what they are there for.

September 15, 2016 - 1:58pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

Does your insurance cover this cream? It is hard not to itch. Only thing that helps are ice packs. It feels like little bugs are biting under my skin. Ugg

October 20, 2016 - 3:33pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

My insurance did cover my gabapentin compound cream. It, along with physical therapy and chiropractic care did the trick for me. And yes - those little 'bugs' under your skin are nerve endings. Ice will numb and quiet them. I hope you ALL find relief!!

October 21, 2016 - 7:48am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

Hi, it's me again.
Just reporting that after using ADVANTAN 0.1% 15G for 10 days all my itching and scarring tissue caused by the scratching has vanished. I don't have the need to scratch anymore and the itching has gone away. Therefore so far so good and thank ADVANTAN for that. I sincerely hope that it works for you too. Best wishes.

October 9, 2016 - 4:48pm
HERWriter (reply to Anonymous)

Glad to hear!  I googled that cream and it is a steroid cream for our other readers to know.  To try it you will need a prescription from your doctor. 

take care, 

October 10, 2016 - 5:39am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

Tell your dr you have Brachioradial Pruritus. Most have never heard of it, so you need to give them a little time to get up to speed. If they won't, FIND ANOTHER DOCTOR! I found relief with a compound cream of Gabapentin, lidocaine, ibuprofen and a few other ingredients (if you want the full list, ask). I also did 8 weeks of physical therapy for my neck. This combo WORKED for me. I screwed it up on a trip to Germany (9 days of bad pillows). In back in PT with another round of cream and its working!! I have not iced my arms in almost 2 weeks! I believe this is fixable. My luck was that my new Dr believed me.
Good luck!!!

September 13, 2016 - 4:14pm
(reply to Anonymous)

Is the cream called GABAPENTIN, or is that simply one of the ingredients? If it's just one of the ingredients, can you tell me what all of the ingredients were that helped you?
I'm pretty sure I have what you mentioned because I just finished some neck therapy with a chiropractor, then one day after being outside a little longer than usual (at a cemetery service) I started the itching on my forearms. Since I live in South Florida I thought it might have been ZIKA. However, even the picture here, with it's pinpoint red dots is exactly like what I have on my skin. I've been getting somewhat decent relief from Econazole Nitrate (1%), or hydrocortisone (1%), or Lanacane (benzethonium chloride .002% and Benzocaine 20%), or Benadryl (diphenhydromine hydrochloride 2% and Zinc acetate 0.1%). Since they all have different ingredients I'm trying to see which works best.

September 14, 2016 - 2:03pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.