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.