Brachioradial Pruritus: Intensely Itchy Arms

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Via Wikipedia

People who have intensely itchy arms but have skin that appears totally normal may be suffering from condition called brachioradial pruitus. It can occur to one or both arms. Typically the itching is on the back of the forearm but may extend to the upper arms and shoulders. Scratching the itching areas seems to only make it worse and some people find that applying ice packs are the only way to get some relief.

Brachioradial pruritus was first reported in 1968 in Florida and seems to occur more to people who live warmer, humid climates. The condition is thought to be caused by a neuropathy. Neuropathies occur when nerves are disrupted by some event (for example, infection or injury) so pain is felt even when there is nothing stimulating it. In the case of brachioradial pruritus, the pain is transmitted as an itching sensation.

There are two theories believed to be the cause of brachioradial pruritus. The first is the sun hypothesis, where it is thought that people who have had chronic sun exposure develop an allergic type of histamine response in their skin. The fact that people with brachioradial pruirtus tend to have worse symptoms on their left arm, which is the driving side of the car and gets more sun exposure goes along with this hypothesis.

The alternate cause of brachioradial pruritus is believed to be due to some type of cervical (neck area) nerve damage. Treatments for cervical arthritis have shown improvement in those with the condition. However, there are critics to both theories. The sun 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? The cervical nerve damage critics point out that cervical neck degeneration occurs to 70 percent of elderly women and 95 percent of elderly men so without further studies it doesn’t make sense that many other older adults don’t develop this condition.

Regardless of cause, brachioradial pruritus does have some treatments that may help. Most people describe the itching as prickly and burning and that can keep them awake at night. Ice packs are the first best therapy to try to stop the itch.

Add a Comment21 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

I have had this problem just for the past two nights. I have snacked on peanuts before bedtime and tonight i'm going to avoid peanuts. I'm wondering if i've developed a slight allergy to them.

September 3, 2015 - 10:43am
EmpowHER Guest

I've experienced intense itching on my shoulders and upper arms for the past 11 years every August through March. I do not know what causes it and some years are better than others. It is usually at night, so I do not sleep much. It causes me great anxiety since I do not know why this happens. There is no rash or bumps, just a prickly itching feeling. I've seen every type of doctor and no one can help me. I've tried everything and would try anything if it would help. I'd so much rather be in pain.

August 28, 2015 - 9:27pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

For me this worked, took forever to figure out. I had bought couch pillows and bed pillows from a discount store. I was allergic to the fill, maybe the cover. I removed them, bought hypoallergenic ones instead, and itch gone. Hope this helps. PS ice helps.

August 31, 2015 - 5:29pm
Michele Blacksberg RN HERWriter (reply to Anonymous)

Hello Anon,

Sorry you are having this difficulty.  I mention various treatments in the article that might help so that would be a place to start.  Ask a doctor about taking low dose Amitriptyline at nite, which will help you sleep and if the itching is nerve driven, might help block those impulses. 

Alternatively, perhaps acupuncture or even hypnosis might help.  

Based on my article's source and comments from others, the cause could be nerve driven, yeast driven or some other part of the body is affected and the symptoms occur due to those problems.

You might want to keep a food diary or just a diary tracking the symptoms to help you identify when it occurs, how bad on a scale of 1-10 it feels and the quality of the itching/burning sensation e.g.. what you feel most.

The fact you feel it during August to March sounds like something that happens or you do when the weather gets cooler is a clue. 

Hopefully you will find other clues about how to figure it out yourself since you have not found doctors who could help you.

take care,


August 29, 2015 - 6:13am
EmpowHER Guest

I get this on my shoulders and what helps distract me from the itchy sensation is a muscle relief lotion (kind of like BenGay) that creates that minty cooling sensation on my skin, almost like an ice pack without needing one! And I also take probiotics. I notice that when I forget to take them the itching sensation is worse and more frequent. I had something similar to this at the beginning of the year but it was all over the core part of my body and it was red and inflamed and the more I itched the worse it felt, it was absolutely miserable and depressing. I did a lot of research and realized that it was actually a gut issue and not primarily a skin issue. So I drank kombucha and ate sauerkraut like crazy and it disappeared within days. It was miraculous. I've switched to just taking probiotic pills because I felt like the sugar and caffeine in the kombucha made me break out more. But the pills don't seem to be as effective at keeping my gut balanced... Hence, I believe, the shoulder itch... I should really focus on getting rid of it completely but the pills and lotion are helping me survive it at least.

August 28, 2015 - 3:33pm
EmpowHER Guest

Turns out I am allergic to milk. I had it for years, and was also lactose intolerant. One time, my lactose intolerance was flaring up, so I stopped drinking milk for a month. I noticed that I didn't get anymore outbreaks when I had no milk in my system. To be sure, I drank milk again, and had a flare up, so I stopped drinking milk again, and the flareups stopped. Its been since 2012 and I haven't had a single flareup....Except for a couple times when I had to have some ice cream.

August 26, 2015 - 2:05pm
EmpowHER Guest

I have had the same problem for the last 11 years, with all the same symptoms you have mentioned. I have tried most of the same remedies. Recently I found spots inside my lip.
I thought the two things were separate issues, but in seeking a remedy for one, it seems I have found the solution to both. Its caused by yeast. Its worse in the summer because I drink more beer.
if you to stop all yeast containing products, such as beer,bread,marmite etc for two months and eat plenty of yoghurt with pro-biotics from any decent health food stores, it should go away. It seems to have worked for me. I live in Portugal where its hot. I thought I had a problem that was caused by heat for years, but quite by accident I stumbled on the solution.

August 13, 2015 - 2:26pm
EmpowHER Guest

Absolute living hell. For about 2 years this affected both my outer forearms near the elbows. when it first came on the itching was so intense I dug well into my arms and was pouring straight rubbing alcohol on the wounds to try desperately to turn the itching into a pain sensation (which was preferable). I finally got in to see a doctor who immediately prescribed a fairly high dose of Doxepin (which worked immediately). (My doctor told me that Doxepin is the generic of Sinequan, the drug they give recovering heroin addicts to remove the itchy crawly sensation from their skin as they detox). it is a very powerful tricyclic antidepressant that happens to have this skin side effect.) The doxepin took all skin sensation away - it was odd - I could not feel me touching my own skin. I was also a zombie and good for absolutely nothing while on that medication but I was so desperate for relief I was grateful. I took doxepin for a month per doctors orders. After that the doc put me on 'regular' antidepressants - which helped - first generic prozac then generic celexa. He explained that this was some form of 'atopic' or contact dermatitis that was probably caused by depression / anxiety. I agreed that I did suffer from depression and anxiety and was ok with taking the antidepressants. I disagreed with him about the exact cause or trigger for the itching and we had a long, intelligent discussion about this. Exposure to DIRECT sunlight here in Florida would trigger it - it started suddenly and with no warning. I thought I had gotten some kind of bug bites after gardening outside. I had a minor car accident a few months later, hurt my neck and back, the symptoms grew dramatically worse. I had some back trauma 10 years ago. I also suspect there is some connection with both neck/back nerve injury and exposure to the sun / solar radiation (plain heat will not trigger it). At the time of onset I was not on any medications at all. That was when I found some article on the web relating to brachioradial pruitis - and I brought them in to see my doctor. He had not seen that information before and agreed this looked liek what I am suffering from. I was able to manage Flare ups (successfully) by slathering the affected areas of my arms with LANACAINE (over the counter skin ointment / cream in a yellow tube, only certain drug stores carry it) contains 10% benzocaine. No side effects except for some localized skin numbness. It's been years now and I STILL keep an emergency kit in the car / house / wherever just in case. The itching went away on it's own. I am off antideppressants for about 9 months now (but am now taking medication for hypothyroid). It has been 4 years now since the itching vanished. I am very grateful. But I live with a quiet fear always that it may someday return. I am able to go out into the sun with no itching But I don't push my luck and spend all day at the beach or anything like that. I am cautious.

GET EFFECTIVE CHIROPRACTIC OR SURGICAL CARE FOR ANY NECK / BACK RELATED INJURIES where anything may be pressing on the nerves, even slightly.

June 16, 2015 - 4:50pm
EmpowHER Guest

I have had this affliction for 38 years and ice packs were the only thing that helped. I tried cannabis infused coconut oil (1 teaspoon at night) and have been itch free for over 8 months. My neurologist tried 21 different medications on me, some were heavy anti-psychotic crossover meds that really made me feel horrible.
I never thought in a million years that cannabis would help eliminate my itching.
There is also another product that will give you temporary relief. It is Kwan Loong Pain Relieving Aromatic Oil available on Amazon for about $10.
Good luck!

June 12, 2015 - 5:02am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

Just a question about the cannabis oil, are you ingesting the cannabis or rubbing the oils on your skin?

June 18, 2015 - 6:14am
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