Brachioradial Pruritus: Intensely Itchy Arms

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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.

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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
EmpowHER Guest

I live in georgia and I am outisde (a serious cyclist} in sun a lot. I only get this in the summer. It comes on and I itch a little for a few hours. Then it stops and then after a few days I havetiny bumps. Then the bumps itch and then they bleed. Then I get a scab which also itches and I must scratch in my sleep because the scabs bleed. From that first itch until when it heals takes 3-4 weeks!!! It's terrible! I get about 6-8 outbreaks every summer. Its only June first and I have a few big scabs on my right arm already. One outbreak so far on the left. It stops for awhile and then comes back! In fall and winter I am fine! It must be the heat!

June 1, 2015 - 6:35pm
EmpowHER Guest

I recently started experiencing an extremely itchy forearm. It is more predominate at night for some reason. Putting topical itch cream on the area seems to help. I play a lot of tennis so I am in the sun at least four days a week. But I wondered if it could be brought on by stress as well, like the shingles virus. It helps to know I'm not alone.

June 1, 2015 - 1:34pm
EmpowHER Guest

Hi I hurt my neck two years ago and had pressure on my nerve. my right arm started itching at nite when I relaxed. My chiropractic fixed it pretty good . In the last month I have hurt my neck in the same way and the itching has started again. I find this so amazing I also get really bad pins and needles when I finsh work . Thanks for the insite

May 7, 2015 - 2:30am
EmpowHER Guest

I have been suffering with this condition for over a year. There have been many nights of an incredibly itchy forearm. I have scratched it until it bled previously. Now I TRY to just use China gel or ice packs. My condition is on my left arm which makes sense due to the fact that I'm a mail carrier in Florida. Drives me absolutely bonkers!

April 29, 2015 - 9:11pm
EmpowHER Guest

Thank you for your article. I too have started this crazy itch in my forearms 3 months ago. Exactly as your article states it, my left arm is worse then my right however they both have terrible rash and a rating scars.

I live in Hawaii, and am 54 years old.
I dont know yet what the triggers are but there is definitely a problem. I also do have arthritis on my upper spin, and neck.

I did see a Allergist and Dermatologist and I mainly took antihistamine meds and Steroid cream.

Most of the rash has calmed down but a area on my upper left arm is taking forever to heal. It still itches at night.

April 29, 2015 - 2:50am
EmpowHER Guest

I get this also mainly right forearm and up to the shoulder, I will also note when I do have this and apply a bit of thumb pressure to the area, it is quite tender and yet I have been off work for a few weeks and doing nothing heavy, ?? am here in Brisbane Australia, plenty of sun , but that is always the case.

April 18, 2015 - 3:00am
EmpowHER Guest

I've been experiencing this type of itching on my upper arms consistently for the last year and a half, since moving to central California from the Pacific Northwest. I've often had my arms exposed in the PNW sun, but it isn't nearly as intense there. I don't intentionally tan, but do wear tank tops more often. I've never had the problem before and immediately equated it with increased sun exposure on my upper arms as soon as the symptom began to appear. My skin on my upper arms also seem to feel thicker and have less topical sensation. I'm mentioning this here because the article talks of the debate about whether sun plays a part and for me, it seems it has. As far as I know, I do not have any cervical or spinal disorders and currently I'm 46. So far I haven't tried many things to relieve the symptoms, so I don't have anything to offer there, but I do hope that the information I have offered can be useful.

March 16, 2015 - 5:35pm
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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.


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