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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 Comment84 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

It's me again! I've been watching this section for 12 months now. I never had this itching symptom on my arms before until last year. It started during the winter months here in Perth, WA. I almost scratched my arms off and scars developed through the irresistible scratching. I tried all home and backyard remedies to no avail and it just got worse. So I went to my doctor who prescribed to me a cream called Advantan 0.1% 15G and it cured the itchiness and scars like a miracle. Guess what? It started again just a few weeks ago on the onset of winter here in Perth. So the cold weather has something to do with it and my hunch is the dry air. Perhaps a good moisturiser applied regularly on your skin will bring relief? However I had to get another script from my doctor for more Advantan cream. I re-applied Advantan 0.1% 15G again on my arms and after a few days all itching and the small corpuscles (blisters) underneath the skin have disappeared. I strongly recommend Advantan 0.1% because it works for me (and another friend who gets it all over his body!!). However do speak to your doctor who will diagnose you, if not, seek a specialist or second or third opinion. Everybody is different and please don't self-diagnose because you may be wrong. Good luck and I hope you find a cure or some soothing relief quickly.

June 21, 2017 - 6:40pm
EmpowHER Guest

My left arm from my shoulder down right before my elbow but in the crevice of my arm where my arm bends by my armpit gets pretty itchy this is going on to two years and when I first noticed it itching it was while I was going to a tanning salon so after a while I stopped and the itching went away after a while and a few years later I decided to go tanning again and after a while I noticed my arm started itching again and it was the same arm so I eventually stopped tanning thinking it was going to stop again but this time it hasn't stopped I've seen like 5 doctors had blood work no creams help they tell me that it's coming from inside me only on the left arm which I don't understand it didn't seem like it did start calming down a lot but I am noticing now I think because it's so hot out it made it start and get even worse so I definitely think Heat sets It Off! I literally want to rip my hair out out of nowhere I'll just get such an intense itch and sometimes no matter how much I itch it it just keeps itching I have no idea what to do about it when I first started I was icing it every day which did help but it always came back if anybody has any suggestions for me please contact me these doctors obviously don't know what they're talking about

June 20, 2017 - 7:00pm
EmpowHER Guest

I have had this for 11 years. As you all know it is awful and can consume your life. I've tried everything and seen every doctor which all thought I was crazy and prescribed different creams and pills. Last summer I went to the chiropractor and she could tell my neck was curved. I've never been in an accident or hurt that area of my body. I went 3 times a week for about 2 months then decreased the frequency gradually and now I go once a month. I got adjustments and massages on my neck and shoulders. This was the first fall/winter in over a decade that I was symptom free. Just wanted to pass along what worked for me. Fingers crossed it stays away!!!

May 3, 2017 - 5:02am
EmpowHER Guest

I suffered with brachioradial puritus for 4 long years. The doctor just kept giving me an atopic cream which did nothing. After barely sleeping for 4 years and at tiles just wanting to cut my arms off, I had a blood test which found I had hypothyroidism (Hasimoto's disease). I started taking thyroxine and within a few days my arms had totally stopped itching. So if you have insanely itchy arms keep sure your doctor gives you a blood test and tests for everything.

April 28, 2017 - 12:33am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

I have been taking synthroid for 26 years because I have hypothyroidism, but the itching just started about 5 years ago.

May 2, 2017 - 6:35pm
EmpowHER Guest

I'm laying in bed of a morning reading this. Been suffering itchy arm for a few years and no one eleven me when I say it's something else. It's enough to actually send me off the rails. I just want to cry with this itch. This is the first time I've come across some legit info on it. I would also like a cure rather than something to ease the itch. I read about the posture, im about 6'3 and have horrible posture, arthritis and a crooked spine. I took my head off the pillow layer t and relaxed my body from the shoulders down. Instantly my arm is has subsided to about 20%... . Im going to work on the his posture thing. I honestly believe it's a stressed nerve thing. Either way the his he feeling is hell itself and my heart goes out to those who suffer also...

January 27, 2017 - 1:18pm
EmpowHER Guest

I'd like to share my insight into BRP. I'm a 30 year old white male, going on almost 10 years of this seemingly seasonal, insane itch. I havnt noticed it every year since I first noticed it, this year has by far been the most severe. I've never had any serious head, neck, back injuries or surgeries. I've had some sunburn on my body, including forearms in my life.. maybe quite a bit, but not as much as someone who lived in a warm area and spent tons of time on the beach.

I have always held tension and had strong anxiety, probably relating back to emotional insecurity habits started in childhood. I've always been a bit quiet and shy, and probably "held in" a lot of mental and physical things. I noticed recently I've had Forward Head Posture for a long time in my life, meaning I did not have proper posture in how I held my head on my shoulders. I developed snoring, which became sleep apnea, low back tension, and cervical spine tension. I imagine as I held my head forward throughout life the rest of my spine gradually started to clench to compensate for the improper posture near the neck.

Now, back to BRP. I've tried creams, I've tried scratching, I've done the ice packs. I want to CURE, not TREAT this madness, as we all do. I began to start with proper head and neck posture, making sure my, particularly my C5-C7 vertebrae were not bunched up and compressed. I began proper diaphragm breathing, in through the nose, and also out through the nose (to simultaneously help with anxiety and sleep apnea). I noticed an IMMEDIATE relief in my anxiety, my mental pace, and my airway blockage. I began doing certain cervical spine yoga stretch routines and noticed an IMMEDIATE relief in BRP symptoms.

Yes, as you begin to correct your posture your upper back and shoulder muscles have to work in new ways, and can get fatigued. When I need to rest I lay flat on my back, no pillow, with my head in the same posture I work on while sitting and standing. I breath deeply into this feeling and try to release as much as possible.

I have focused on my posture while driving, sleeping, sitting, typing, standing, and even how I look at my cell phone and tablet devices. I hold them up to my eyes, rather than drop my head down to them.

Chin tucked, back of the skull lifts, drop your shoulders down and back. You don't want a perfectly straight neck, a gentle concave curve is normal. If posture has been causing your BRP, like I believe it has for me, you will notice a larger than normal knot around your C5-C7 vertebrae, basically between the tops of your shoulders. Look at yourself in the mirror from the side, do you resemble the hunchback of notre dame a bit? :) I know I did (I say this somewhat exaggeratedly).

Whether your are into spirituality, yoga, eastern medicine energy thoughts or not, you WILL notice circulation sensations reaching EXACTLY where the BRP itch is when you start to correct your posture. This is your body telling you you are on the right track!

Let your belly hang out, its beautiful, I've got one! Lift your chin, let your chest proudly go out, release all your held tension that isnt necessary for standing up. Breath at an even pace, do all your activities at an even pace (other than exercise) and keep your posture in check throughout the day, constantly!

I've noticed better circulation, less obstructed airways, and best of all, relief to my damned itchy arms.

Posture is key, especially in our head region. Our heads are essentially 11 or so lb bowling balls resting on a delicate stick. Even just slightly having our head forward, over time, many years/decades, will gradually stress the neck and back out a LOT. We also drive and sit at desks a lot in our society, this adds to this unhealthy habit.

Every doctor I went to didnt know jack about BRP and wouldnt acknowledge it. They insisted it was eczema, dry skin, allergies. I have incredibly oily skin and my doctor still tried to convince me I had dry skin. Creams that will destroy your skin if you use them for too long are NOT the answer. They only treat anyway, not cure.

December 4, 2016 - 10:38am

Helpful Info:
What has given my wife relief, is what gives everyone relief. Cold….
Her favorites over the last 8-9 years are (for the day time), the Rite-Aid Reusable Cold Packs that have the bubbles that freeze(Similar to the CryoMAX Reusable Cold Packs - Likely at any Rite-Aid type store). These last for a long time and she can put a light cloth between or over a light shirt, will protect her are.

For the evenings, she uses packs similar to "Nature Creation Relief Packs". We have both the bubble cold packs and these cloth packs in our freezer. Note: There are quite a few sites for DIY or you can even pick them up from Goodwill at times. Depending on the size of your itching surface, you can choose between the shoulder wraps, back packs, etc… Any of those well built packs, can be frozen and for my wife, weren't so cold to damage the skin. The day bubble packs could get too cold and she didn't like to use them at night. At times at night, she would have to get a fresh cold pack from the freezer in the middle of the night if it was an extreme night.

November 16, 2016 - 2:01am

So, I am writing this from a spouse's perspective.
My wife has had this issue for the last 8-9 years. Summer unbearable itching that calms near winter, colder months. Exactly what is described in this article and forum.

My first request is for a personal request for the name of a doctor in the Southern California area, near North OC area (Anywhere within the few surrounding counties). Please personally message me with the name of a local doctor that we won't have to convince or educate them around BP - Brachioradial Pruritus. I would like to find a physician that has the option to provide the (Piroxicam .2%; Gabapentin 3%; Lidocaine 2%; Prilocaine 2%; Impramine 1%; Ibuprofen 2.4%) and/or Advantan 0.1% 15G compound cream ointment or anything that is topical that can provide my wife relief.

I have no problem letting a physician diagnose the issue and determine the best protocol for the problem. What I have an issue with, is "turning/educating" a physician around. That their 4-5 options they know for these symptoms, don't work. They aren't broadening their scope of issues/solutions enough to resolve the problem. Most physicians run out of ideas and turn to depression and psychological drugs, which is frustrating when you can't sleep, wanting to take a steak knife to your arm, etc... This problem is similar to Fibromyalgia back just a few years ago. Doctors/Physicians used that, once they came up with the word, as a garbage can until just a couple of years ago. It was always viewed as mental instability and psychological problems. The sad thing is, once you get FM and other Auto Immune Issues, you become more susceptible to more problems being lopped on....

This issue is tough to watch a loved one go through because you need to eat well, exercise, sleep well, etc… Those that have this, know that the itching doesn't stop at bed time, it ramps up. Once you stay up going crazy with this itchy arm, it piles up and doesn't allow you to freely exercise, sleep well, etc..

November 16, 2016 - 2:00am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to SpearFishing1)

Me too!
I am in agony all day and all night. Would like to rake both arms, constantly. It came on suddenly, so it seems. Arms are scarred-up.

November 20, 2016 - 2:46pm
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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.