Several years ago, I started having what I have always called “itchy arm.” My arms, sometimes one, sometimes both, just start to itch. It occurs mostly at night, and times like right now when I’m thinking about it. When it’s really bad, it itches all day long.
In my case, the symptoms tend to go away in the fall and in those early years, I thought it was gone until it would return the following summer. Some years are worse than others.
For a couple of years, maybe longer, I really suffered from it. I couldn’t sleep. I would give up and just get up, sometimes not going to bed all night because my arms itched. I would scratch them until they bled, even though scratching makes it much worse, not better.
The itching can be really intense. It feels like something crawling under the skin.
But then one day, I just Googled “itchy arm” and was amazed.
It’s an actual, real, neurological condition called brachioradial pruritis. This made me laugh. Brachioradial pruritis is simply doctor-speak for “itchy arm.” What this says is that they have no idea what causes it, but needed to give it a name, so they just Latinized the descriptive term.
There are two theories about what causes it. It’s not a skin condition. Lotions do not help even slightly. I know because I’ve tried all of them. Dermatologists love lotions and if you go to one, he will prescribe a tube of some expensive shit, but it won’t help.
It’s most definitely a neurological condition.
One school of thought is that it’s due to damage from the sun to the nerve endings. There is no question, in my experience, that exposure to the sun makes it much, much worse. It’s there when I am out and about in the summertime, and gone in winter. I never had it in Alaska at all.
The other theory is that it’s due to neurological damage to the cervical spine. The argument is that it occurs only on the arms (and that portion of the arm that is generally exposed to the sun, by the way), and not on the legs. Even if I get a sunburn on my legs, I don’t get it there.
There doesn’t seem to be any dire condition associated with it. It’s basically just a pain in the ass.
But the internet, bless the internet, gave me a way to stop the itching, and that is with an ice pack. I own about three of them. I’ve worn out one. In the summertime, I typically fill an ice pack at bedtime whether I’m having itching or not and keep it handy, because sometimes the itching will wake me up in the middle of the night. I just put the icepack on my arm until it’s very cold and pretty much numb. The itching stops like magic and usually I can go back to sleep.
Doctors actually call this the “ice pack sign” and it’s apparently a definitive tool in diagnosing the condition. If ice makes the itching go away, you’ve got it.
And of course, now I know that come October, itchy arm will go away.
Here’s a closeup photo I just took a few minutes ago of my right forearm. See the “bug bites”? They aren’t. Those are places where I scratched the skin off in my sleep (I try not to do it when I’m aware of it because it does no good and makes the itching sensation worse, not better, although sometimes it’s very hard not to scratch even when I know better). Right now, I have it in my right arm and have had almost none on the left this summer, but that’s subject to change at any moment.
Anyway, it’s weird.
I’ve long ago figured out that most other treatment is useless. Some websites, ones that should know better, recommend silly shit like acupuncture (might as well pray for all the good that will do), or sledge-hammer cures like antidepressants (not a chance am I going to take some drug when ice fixes it nicely). I was reading an online forum once discussing this and people there recounted tales of having spent thousands of dollars going from doctor to doctor trying to get treatment.
I suppose there are folks who have it much worse than I do and find that they cannot function during the daytime because of it, but so far I am not one of them.
It’s a nuisance, but something I’ve learned to cope with just by making sure the ice trays stay full.
Now you are expecting me to segue into some other broad topic and then you’ll know why I brought this up. Not this time. I just brought it up because I can find very little about this in the popular literature. Most discussion is technical, medical, and full of big words, intended for medical professionals. This, I hope, is more accessible and thus more practical.