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Brachioradial Pruritus: Intensely Itchy Arms

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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 Comment99 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

I went to a dermatologist and was informed that I have Brachioradial Pruritus. She said that Gabapentin has been used to reduce/remove the constant itching during the flare-ups. It definitely works for me and has brought the itching to a complete stop (especially during the cooler seasons). During the heat of the summer, the itching may try to come back, but the Gabapentin gives me about 98% relief.

November 14, 2017 - 2:03pm
EmpowHER Guest

I am currently in remission (yay!) but I assume this is temporary and that my itchy arms will someday return. I continue seeing my chiropractor, and still have ice packs standing by in the freezer. This link was sent to me by a friend, and I find it interesting. I hope you do, too.


November 2, 2017 - 6:44pm

I have had BRP for over 5 years and when I have flare ups (at least 3 times a year) it is maddening. Until I realized others suffered from this condition I assumed it was in my head and had been told by doctors that it was caused by stress (the most annoying thing to here!). I thought I was the only person to use the ice packs for relief before scouring the internet for clues to this condition. No creams work and I come close to inflicting myself with pain (cutting or scratching until bleeding) because pain is preferable to the maddening itch. I am only responding because I recently came across something that does bring me some relief. I borrowed a TENS unit from my friend and as I dialed up the “shocks” to the nerve endings I did find relief! I am ordering one through Amazon and pray that it’s nit temporary. I also may order an inversion table to help with my neck but will wait until I have an MRI done to confirm any cervical issues. The TENS unit is only $30 and I was willing to pay much more if it works. Crossing my fingers for long term relief...

October 4, 2017 - 7:14pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Dmmom902)

I am wondering if I have the same thing going on. Intense itching on both upper arms to the point that I want to claw them. Even scratching til they bleed seems preferable. I am going to try the ice packs. Can you let me know if the tens unit is ongoing relief for you? I have been diagnosed in past with fibro and neuropathy. I know I do have nerve damage from several years ago. I anxiously await your resultss

October 5, 2017 - 5:42pm
(reply to Anonymous)

I am actually using one right now as I type this. It does work to alleviate the pain at the time which helps me get some sleep. The one I am borrowing shuts off after 15 minutes so I do have to turn it back on. I’m going to check some other units before purchasing one (I’m currently on vacation visiting friends). Unfortunately while out during day I was going insane with the itch. I caused bleeding which my husband had to point out. I do carry a T-gel spray with me that is put out by Neutrogena which is an overnight dandruff treatment with Salicylic acid 2%. It does help me but it’s impossible to find. I saw it on the internet recently and my mom happened to have it - not a cream but a spray. The tens unit is working temporarily but I am desperate for long term relief. Good luck because others either don’t believe you or don’t understand!

October 7, 2017 - 7:46pm
EmpowHER Guest

I have also suffered with this so called BP condition over the past 3 years,and have found it so so frustrating to the point of itching my skin off!.
I believe i have cured this with the use of a cream called eumovate...it works for me and i have had nothing whatsoever now for over 3 weeks. Hope this helps

August 15, 2017 - 7:13pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

Im going to try this . I just started with this so called BP and im like so depressed. Funny how i was suffering from chronic neck pain and right arm pain for so long until i started doing some PT. Worst part is this is all from anxiety . Been suffering from anxiety as well. :-(

October 11, 2017 - 2:50pm
(reply to Anonymous)

I’m so sorry to hear how this has been affecting you but understand it 100%. I never sleep and suffer terribly on some days. The ice packs are the only sure fire temporary “cure” at this point. I have also discovered some relief with any liquid product with 2% or 3% salicylic acid such as Scalpicin which is a scalp relief product. Works for people with eczema and I read about someone trying it - it did provide some relief so I carry it with me always (easier than finding ice while I’m out!). My new TENS unit should come today ($30 on Amazon) so I have high hopes for trying to sleep with that. Good luck. It’s a long journey on trying to find what may work for you. It made it easier for me to know I wasn’t the only one with this maddening condition!

October 16, 2017 - 2:24am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

Hi, I have been dealing w/ BP for over 3 yrs also &f and have tried everything the stuff you mentioned is a RX or over the counter & I'm still miserable plz let me know plz

September 8, 2017 - 3:52pm
EmpowHER Guest

I have all of these symptoms and also on the legs. When the dermatologist diagnosed me with BP, she could tell me the reason that I also have it on my legs. I'm getting acupuncture treatment right now and i also had to take out all dairy products in my diet. after 10 days i was expose to the sun and it happened again. I'm really frustrated. I understand the arms but legs...???

August 14, 2017 - 11:52am
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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.