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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 Comment124 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

I have had this issue for the last five years. It is painful like a burning sensation and comes to the surface of my skin as itch but is a signal for pain. I sleep with ice packs to relieve the itch and wake up constantly. I scratch till I bleed all over the sheets and the ice is the only thing that helps. I live in Florida. It used to start always in August so I thought it was poison Ivy because every year end of July I was in Colorado and going through trails that had warning signs of poison ivy. It wasn't that. I have had 3 doctors and 2 dermatologists look at it. One took a biopsy and found nothing. The other said I had BP and to get a steroid cream immediately to clear up the horrible secondary issue I had caused by scratching my arms (at night being the worst) till they were raw. He also said to stop using the naturopathic oils like melaleuca (tea trea oil) or vitamin E, arnica and that my skin was reacting in a more inflamed way. He said I had a pinched nerve in my C3/4 and to get to a chiropractor to alleviate this pain. I feel like that helped for a few months but then it came back. It was only on my right arm but the last month went to my left arm and now is on both. It comes and goes and I am in constant pain. I had an antihistamine shot to the hip (very strong) and was given strong antihistamine tablets by prescription only. I've used creams and lotions of all kinds. I now have schedules to see an acupuncturist and to have a food allergy testing. I already have cut out so many things that I think could cause ellergic reactions. Gluten, milk and milk products, soy and soybean products and now all corn. One thing that has helped just a bit is CBD oil that I put directly on the scratches but it doesn't help after an hour or two. I thought it was shingles, but it is only on my arms so can't be that...and though it sometimes looks like a small blister like chicken pox, I was actually hopeful that was iwhat it was so I could take that vaccine they give for shingles. BTW, I am a triathlete and very healthy but this started right as I was turning 50 so my acupuncturist is checking my hormones now and my lower digestive track to make sure that is not causing my nerves to react in my arms. So much to consider!!! But the fact remains that it's painful, unattractive, & could be an auto immune disorder and I will do anything to cure it! I still do the chiropractic exercises because I do believe it is nerve related and am thankful you all were writing about this on this site. May this review help and may we find an answer to what we are all experiencing.

July 1, 2019 - 12:19pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

I have the same problem and the only relief I can get is using bengay. It numbs my nerves but it really works

July 23, 2019 - 7:58am
Guide (reply to Anonymous)


Thank you for sharing this. You are correct in that it could be related to an autoimmune disorder. Tests can be taken to find out.

We hope you feel better soon. Keep us updated.



July 1, 2019 - 12:43pm
EmpowHER Guest

I used to have a problem with extremely itchy arms, but it also affected my legs, especially around my ankles. I finally mentioned it to my doctor. I showed him how I was scratching my arms so raw it looked like a rash but wasn't, just the scratches. I told him I was using baby oil after showers. He said that was my problem. According to him the mineral oil was leaching vitamin E out of my skin causing a vitamin E deficiency. He recommended I get some pure vitamin E oil for my skin and avoid all mineral oil. It worked, the itching ended immediately and this treatment has worked for 30 years. Pure vitamin E oil used to be hard to find 30 years ago, there was one pharmacy that carried bottles of it. Nowadays it is easily available and there are many more mainstream brands. But beware if you are going to try this, just because the front of the bottle says vitamin E you need to check the ingredients to make sure mineral oil isn't in there as a cheap filler. Vitamin E oils and lotions will be plant based, ie: safflower, sunflower, olive, castor, walnut, or other plants/seeds. Cheap enough to try to see if it relieves the itching.

January 10, 2019 - 3:06pm
EmpowHER Guest

Your Response:
I had this condition for 2 years - it drove me mad as aswell, usually only at night. Onset early evening and felt like pin pricks,
Very itchy around elbow usually on one side - no rash. I found the issue by changing my diet - I found I had a LACTOSE INTOLERANCE.
I stopped all diary products for a week and for me at least this was the cause. It’s worth a try. I’m dairy and itch free now and take lactase tablets when I want banoffee pie or deserts!

October 21, 2018 - 11:15am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

I drink milk all day, & right before I go to bed,, I sleep with ice bottles on my arms, just so I dont wake up with bloody arms from scratching all night!

January 14, 2019 - 5:46pm
EmpowHER Guest


I have suffered from severe itchy left arm for probably 6-7 years. I am a 50 year old female. It comes between September and October and lasts until December or January. Through the years I have seen chiropractors, neurologists, and dermatologists. No one has been helpful at all. No cream or ice can even begin to control my symptoms. Recently I was at our local medical clinic for an unrelated issue, with a generic family doctor, and he said it has to be a seasonal allergy because if it was neurological, or stress, or skin damage, why wouldn't I have it all of the time. Totally made sense. I have never considered myself one to suffer from seasonal allergies (sneezing, congestion), but he said that is not always the case. We moved to the northern part of Mississippi 10 years ago from Wisconsin. I hind sight, my symptoms started not too long after our move to the south. Anyways, he said Allegra (the allergy medicine) should help because it is a histamine blocker. He said Claritin and Zyrtec are crap, don't even try them. I was amazed! My symptoms are probably 80% better, almost instantly. I still feel a tiny bit of tingling, but not the 1,000 needles pricking me, uncontrollable itching that keeps me up all night, want to rip my arm off, crazy that I have experienced for years. I still believe there can be many causes for this problem, but hopefully this will help someone!

October 4, 2018 - 9:13am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

I'm very hopeful, now that I've read your comment! I'm so glad that you took the time to relay your experience!!! This is my 2nd Fall of experiencing intensely itchy arms. Mine seems to start in September, but I don't recall when it stopped last year, although I do remember not suffering with it during the winter months. The itch started on my left arm, and now the right is also affected. It wakes me up at night, so I'm also tired and cranky during the day. My arms are now peppered with scabs, and I'm worried about scarring, as I'm also fair, but the itch is just too intense to keep myself from scratching. Anyway, I'm hoping we have Allegra here in Canada. Hitting the pharmacy is now first on my 'to do' list, for the day. THANK YOU so much for posting; I'm very hopeful about trying Allegra and will keep my fingers crossed. That is, when I'm not scratching, ha, ha.

November 14, 2018 - 5:53am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

Thanks. I have the same burning itch predominately during summer/fall. It's winter now and virtually no symptoms. I will ask my Doctor about Allegra. Thanks!

January 6, 2019 - 2:53am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

I absolutely agree with you. For me, at least. Mine always starts around September or October & goes through December. I will try Allegra! Thanks for the input!

October 4, 2018 - 3:14pm
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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.