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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?

The cervical nerve damage critics point out that cervical neck degeneration occurs in 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.1

Regardless of cause, there are some treatments that may help brachioradial pruritus.

For most people with BP, the itching is prickly and burning, and that can keep them awake at night.

Ice packs are the first best therapy to try to stop the itch.

Capsaicin is a topical cream that is believed to help with pain-related nerve conditions by interfering with the sensory nerves' perception of pain. It may take several weeks for the capsaicin to work.

Sometimes a topical steroid cream can take the edge off.

With a doctor’s prescription, a lidocaine 5% gel or patch can be applied to the skin. Lidocaine provides relief by blocking nerve impulses.

Other oral medications that act to block erroneous nerve impulses such as gabapentin, lyrica or amitriptyline can also be tried. However, they are also fairly sedating and have other side effects, so they may not be well tolerated.

Alternate treatments include acupuncture and topical anti-itch oils such as menthol or spray-on antihistamines, which may give some relief. Oatmeal or black tea tannin compresses may also be of help.

Chiropractic adjustments of the neck have also been found to be helpful by some. Wearing protective clothing such as long-sleeved shirts to protect your arms from wind and sun may help.

Brachioradial pruritus is a very frustrating and difficult condition that requires understanding from others, as well as patience and persistence to come up with some amount of relief.

Michele is an R.N. freelance writer with a special interest in women’s health care and quality of care issues.

Originally written March 2, 2011
Updated August 16, 2016 by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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 Comment130 Comments

EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

I have had my symptoms 15 years,I have tried every cream known to man, it’s always the same time of year starts in July goes away beginning of October, it started on my lower left arm same place for years, last year it went to my lower right arm, this year it’s my right upper arm, the only thing that works for me is antihistamine tablets only meant to take one a day but I have to take twice a day, the absolute worse thing is if it has been a warm day and it starts to rain my skin goes mental and I just can’t help claw myself to bits, I don’t understand how it affects me so badly, when I am shut inside with the windows closed. So much sympathy for all you suffers as I swear I have thought I’m loosing my mind, it’s like a dripping tap x20

July 11, 2020 - 2:16pm
Guide (reply to Anonymous)


Thank you for sharing your story and what works for you. The resource below may be of some help. 



July 11, 2020 - 5:08pm
HERWriter Guide (reply to Anonymous)

Thank you for sharing what has worked for you, Anon. This may help our other readers who have yet to find a solution.



July 31, 2017 - 7:12am
EmpowHER Guest

I'm wondering if these itchy arms can be associated with Fibromyalgia? I have itching sensations off and on all over my body, but just recently, it has attacked my arms. I have found that Ibuprofen stops it. Seems to be effective up to eight-ten hours. Like everything else with this crazy illness, I know it will just up and disappear and another symptom will creep up.

July 7, 2017 - 10:04am
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
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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.