Itchy forearms are not usually a cause for concern. Nonetheless, the sensation can be irritating.
The forearms may itch because of an allergic reaction. Or, the itchiness may be a symptom of an underlying condition, such as psoriasis or eczema. The best treatment for itchy forearms depends on the cause of the discomfort. If a person is not sure of the cause, they should consider seeing a doctor.
A few common issues can cause the forearms to itch. Keep reading to learn more about the possible causes and how to treat them.
Brachioradial pruritus is a chronic condition that causes a burning sensation or itchiness on the forearms.
Rarely, these sensations can extend to the neck and shoulders. Although anyone can get brachioradial pruritus, it is most common in white, middle-aged females. The medical community still does not know what causes this condition, but research suggests that brachioradial pruritus results either from recurring sun damage or nerve root entrapment caused by degenerative disease of the spine.
Extensive exposure sunlight in a short period can trigger the symptoms. People who live in colder climates often find relief from symptoms during cooler months, when there is less sunlight. Brachioradial pruritis does not cause marks or blemishes on the skin. However, it can cause a person to scratch a lot, and this could lead to skin changes, such as a darkening and thickening of the skin.
Anyone with brachioradial pruritus should limit their exposure to sunlight. Topical creams and ointments, such as those that include corticosteroids or capsaicin, may help. A person may also benefit from oral medications, such as:
- hydroxyzine (Atarax)
- amitriptyline (Elavil)
- risperidone (Risperdal)
- chlorpromazine (Largactil)
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any treatments specifically for brachioradial pruritus, and doctors and researchers have yet to understand the condition fully. As a result, anyone using a medication above for brachioradial pruritus would be doing so on an off-label basis.
Psoriasis is a chronic inflammatory disease that results from immune dysfunction. Psoriasis causes the body’s skin cell production to increase dramatically, creating plaques of dry, scaly, and red skin. The plaques are occasionally itchy. Though it is most common around the knees, elbows, lower back, and scalp, it can also appear on the forearms.
Beyond the effects on the skin, psoriasis may cause pitting and other changes to the nails. Also, it can affect the joints and cause psoriatic arthritis.
Treatment for psoriasis may involve a combination of topical creams, gels, or ointments, light therapy, and oral or injectable medications. Some typical oral medications for psoriasis include:
- acitretin (Soriatane)
- cyclosporine (Neoral)
- apremilast (Otezla)
Some typical topical treatments include:
- calcineurin inhibitors
- vitamin D analogs, such as calcipotriene (Daivonex)
- topical retinoids, such astazarotene (Tazorac)
People should note that treating psoriasis with calcineurin inhibitors constitutes an off-label use.
Biologic drugs, or biologics, are also popular psoriasis treatments. Some options include:
- adalimumab (Humira)
- secukinumab (Cosentyx)
- ixekizumab (Taltz)
- ustekinumab (Stelara)
Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a condition that causes red, itchy skin. If a person scratches the affected skin, it thickens, becomes redder, and may become more itchy. Eczema is not contagious and can last for a long time. People with eczema may also experience asthma and hay fever.
Researchers have yet to pinpoint the exact cause of eczema. However, they believe that it may be connected to environmental and genetic factors.
A person can often relieve some eczema symptoms by:
- using gentle soaps
- limiting the length of showers and baths
- bathing in cool or warm water
- gently patting the skin dry after bathing, then applying a moisturizer
- moisturizing the skin regularly
However, topical steroids are the foundation of eczema care. Other treatments include light therapy, oral
immunosuppressants, and an injectable medication called dupilumab (Dupixent).
Contact dermatitis causes an itchy, swollen, red rash to form on the skin. It may be:
- irritant contact dermatitis, when it results from contact with an irritant
- allergic contact dermatitis, when the rash is a reaction to an allergen
The irritant may be water, if a person washes their hands too often, for example.
Poison ivy is an example of allergic contact dermatitis. Depending on the cause, allergic contact dermatitis can clear up within 1–3 weeks, if the person has avoided contact with the allergen.
Some additional symptoms may include:
- dry skin
- a burning or itching sensation
- cracked skin
If a person has allergic contact dermatitis, they should identify the allergen and prevent further exposure. The primary treatments are topical steroids and avoidance of the allergen. Treating irritant contact dermatitis involves avoiding the irritant, treating the inflammation with topical steroids, and repairing the skin barrier with another topical product, such as a petroleum jelly-based ointment.
Some people find oral medication helpful as well, including:
- antihistamines, for their sleep-inducing effects
- antibiotics, if an infection has resulted from broken skin on the rash
When to see a doctor
The cause of itchy forearms is rarely severe. However, if a person experiences any of the following symptoms, they should seek emergency medical treatment because they may be experiencing a severe allergic reaction.
Symptoms to watch for include:
- swelling of the face or throat
- difficulty breathing
A person may also want to see their doctor if they do not know the cause of the itchiness. A doctor can diagnose the issue and help determine the best course of treatment.
Itchy forearms are not typically a cause for concern unless they are accompanied by symptoms of a severe allergic reaction. If a person experiences swelling of the face or throat, confusion, or difficulty breathing, they should seek emergency medical aid. A less severe allergic reaction may cause hives on the skin.
A variety of treatments — including topical creams and ointments, oral medications, and changes to skin care — can help with forearm itchiness. The best course of treatment will depend on the underlying cause.
If the itchiness does not go away or the cause is unclear, consult a doctor, who can advise about the next steps.
Medically reviewed by Owen Kramer, MD
Written by Jenna Fletcher
SOURCE: MEDICAL NEWS TODAY