Symptoms A-Z

Upper Arm Itch Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions

Itchy upper arms can most commonly be caused by dermatologic issues like allergic reactions from certain foods, chemicals, or contact with certain plants like poison ivy or oak. Other causes of rashes on upper arms include eczema, psoriasis, or scabies. Read below for associated symptoms, other causes, and treatment options.

An image depicting a person suffering from upper arm itch symptoms

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Contents

  1. Symptoms
  2. Causes
  3. 10 Possible Upper Arm Itch Conditions
  4. Treatments and Relief
  5. FAQs
  6. Questions Your Doctor May Ask
  7. Statistics
  8. References

Upper Arm Itch Symptoms

Also called pruritus, itching is an uncomfortable sensation that causes a desire to scratch the affected area. Itching can be an annoying and has many potential causes. Itching can be especially worrisome if it leads to severe scratching that results in damage to the skin and its protective barrier. Most causes of upper arm itch are minor and easily treatable. However, some causes may require evaluation and treatment by a medical professional.

Common characteristics of upper arm itch are

Upper arm itch may be the result of a variety of factors, and depending on the cause can be:

  • Persistent (continuous) or intermittent (comes and goes)
  • Acute (sudden and temporary) or chronic (continuous or recurring)

Common accompanying symptoms are

Depending on the cause, upper arm itch may be associated with:

  • Burning
  • Tingling
  • Redness
  • Scaling
  • Flaking
  • Dryness
  • Tenderness
  • Lumps or bumps in the affected area

Upper Arm Itch Causes

Upper arm itch may be the result of several causes including inflammatory conditions, infectious bugs, or exposure to something in the environment. Typically upper arm itch is due to a process that involves the skin covering the upper arm but sometimes the cause may lie deeper. The best course of treatment depends on the cause and a medical evaluation would best be able to determine the most likely cause and how to treat it.

Inflammatory

Upper arm itch can be caused by inflammation, which is the body’s normal response to injury or infection. Sometimes the body’s immune system kicks in when it’s not supposed to, which leads to autoimmune inflammatory disease.

  • Autoimmune disease: An autoimmune disease occurs when the immune system — which usually works to protect you against diseases and infections — instead starts to attack the healthy cells that make up your body [1]. Sometimes these autoimmune diseases can affect the skin and lead to damage of the skin cells which can lead to upper arm itch.
  • Inflammatory skin conditions: Some diseases like eczema primarily occur in the cells that make up your skin [2]. One of the most common symptoms of inflammatory skin conditions is itchy skin that may also be accompanied by redness, dryness, flaking, roughness, and changes in the skin’s appearance.

Infectious

Sometimes upper arm itch may occur as part of a reaction to an infection.

  • Bacterial infection: Bacteria that cause skin infections include those commonly known as staph (staphylococcus) and strep (streptococcus). These bacteria can be normal components of the skin surface, but when there’s damage or injury to the skin, they can penetrate and cause infection and inflammation. When this happens, one symptom may be itchiness along with other infectious symptoms like pain, redness, warmth, and fever.
  • Fungal infection: Certain fungi including yeast can also penetrate the skin and cause a similar reaction of inflammation accompanied by itchiness.
  • Viral infection: Some viruses like those that cause chickenpox and shingles can infect the skin and lead to upper arm itch with an associated rash or sores.
  • Parasitic infection: Parasites are tiny organisms that live and feed either in or on the body. Lice and mites, like the ones that cause scabies, are common parasites known to affect the skin and may cause upper arm itch [3].

Environmental

Environmental causes for upper arm itch include traumatic injury or exposure to substances that cause an allergic reaction.

  • Trauma: Irritation or injury to the skin covering the upper arm can lead to itchiness.
  • Allergies: Certain substances can cause a skin reaction, allergic contact dermatitis, on contact can result in itchiness, redness, swelling, and hives [4]. These substances include nickel, poison oak, poison ivy, and poison sumac.
  • Irritants: Certain soaps, lotions, cosmetics, and other substances can also cause foot redness and irritation after prolonged skin contact.

10 Possible Upper Arm Itch Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced upper arm itch. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Allergic contact dermatitis of the upper arm

Allergic contact dermatitis is a condition in which the skin becomes irritated and inflamed following physical contact with an allergen. Common products known to cause allergic dermatitis include plants, metals, soap, fragrance, and cosmetics.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: upper arm redness, upper arm itch, scabbed area of the upper arm

Symptoms that always occur with allergic contact dermatitis of the upper arm: upper arm redness

Urgency: Self-treatment

Allergic reaction to poison ivy/oak/sumac

Plants of the Toxicodendron genus are found throughout the continental United States, and exposure to these plants is a leading cause of contact dermititis, a medical term used to describe irritation and itching of the skin.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: rash, itchy rash, red rash, skin changes on arm, stinging or burning rash

Symptoms that always occur with allergic reaction to poison ivy/oak/sumac: itchy rash, rash

Symptoms that never occur with allergic reaction to poison ivy/oak/sumac: fever

Urgency: Self-treatment

Eczema (atopic dermatitis)

Eczema (atopic dermatitis) is a non-contagious chronic skin condition that produces an itchy rash. It is caused by a genetic condition that affects the skin's ability to protect itself from bacteria and allergens. The most susceptible are those with a family hi...

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Irritant contact dermatitis

Irritant contact dermatitis means a skin reaction that is caused by directly touching an irritating substance, and not by an infectious agent such as a bacteria or virus.

Common causes are soap, bleach, cleaning agents, chemicals, and even water. Almost any substance can cause it with prolonged exposure. Contact dermatitis is not contagious.

Anyone who works with an irritating substance can contract the condition. Mechanics, beauticians, housekeepers, restaurant workers, and health care providers are all susceptible.

Symptoms include skin that feels swollen, stiff, and dry, and becomes cracked and blistered with painful open sores.

A medical provider can give the best advice on how to heal the skin and avoid further irritation. Self-treatment can make the problem worse if the wrong creams or ointments are used.

Diagnosis is made through patient history, to find out what substances the patient comes into contact with, and through physical examination of the damaged skin.

Treatment involves avoiding the irritating substance if possible. Otherwise, the person can use petroleum jelly on the hands underneath cotton and then rubber gloves.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: rash with well-defined border, itchy rash, red or pink, rough patch of skin, painful rash, red rash

Symptoms that always occur with irritant contact dermatitis: rash with well-defined border

Symptoms that never occur with irritant contact dermatitis: fever, black-colored skin changes, brown-colored skin changes, blue-colored skin changes

Urgency: Self-treatment

Seborrheic dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis is a common chronic inflammatory skin condition that causes flaky, white to yellowish scales to form on oily areas such as the scalp, face or inside the ear. It can occur with or without reddened skin. The exact cause of this condition is not known, although doctors think that some common skin yeast organisms, called Malassezia, may play a role in some people.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: itchy rash, red or pink, rough patch of skin, rash with well-defined border, scalp skin changes, cheek skin changes

Symptoms that never occur with seborrheic dermatitis: fever

Urgency: Phone call or in-person visit

Upper Arm Itch Symptom Checker

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Ringworm (tinea corporis)

Tinea corporis means "ringworm that affects the body." It is caused by a fungus, not an actual worm, on the surface of the skin. It is also called dermatophytosis.

Ringworm is very contagious through direct contact and through shared clothing, bedding, shower floors, locker rooms, etc. A person showing no symptoms can still spread ringworm. It is also transferred between humans and animals, especially dogs, cats, and horses.

Most susceptible are those with weakened immune systems, though anyone can contract ringworm.

Symptoms include an itchy, circular red rash that spreads outward and grows larger. It may form a pattern of rings on the arms, legs, and/or body.

Treatment is important in order to prevent further spread of the disease, and to ease the discomfort. The rash itself can become infected from constant scratching.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination and skin culture.

Treatment involves anti-fungal medications applied to the skin, and sometimes a course of prescription anti-fungal pills.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: dry skin, rash, red rash, itchy rash, curved rash

Symptoms that never occur with ringworm (tinea corporis): groin skin changes, fever, scrotal itch, groin itch, facial skin changes, hand skin changes, genital skin changes

Urgency: Self-treatment

Psoriasis

Psoriasis causes an overgrowth of surface skin cells, creating a red, scaly, itchy, and painful rash.

It is believed to be an autoimmune disorder that causes the body to attack its own healthy skin cells. It may be genetic in origin but triggered by anything that further strains the immune system, such as infections, skin injury, alcohol consumption, obesity, smoking, and stress.

Symptoms may come and go in cycles lasting weeks or months. They include red patches of thickened skin, sometimes with gray-white scales; dry, cracked, bleeding skin; stiff and swollen joints; and thickened, misshapen nails.

It is important to see a medical provider for care, because psoriasis can interfere with quality of life. It is associated with higher risk of arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, and other conditions.

Treatment involves different combinations of topical medications, oral medications, and phototherapy with natural or artificial light. Lifestyle changes such as improved diet, quitting smoking, and managing stress are very helpful in many cases.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: itchy rash, red or pink, rough patch of skin, rash with well-defined border, painful rash, scaly rash

Symptoms that never occur with psoriasis: fever, black-colored skin changes, brown-colored skin changes, blue-colored skin changes

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Scabies

Scabies is a rash caused by the microscopic human itch mite. It burrows into the top layer of skin to feed and causes severe itching and irritation.

The mite spreads through direct contact or through infested bedding or furniture. It can infect anyone, though most susceptible are:

  • Children.
  • Sexually active young adults.
  • Anyone with a weakened immune system.
  • Patients in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

Symptoms include intense itching, especially at night, and a rash of tiny red bumps. Scratching may cause the rash to form sores, scales, or crusts. The rash most often forms between the fingers, in the folds of the wrists and elbows, and any place normally covered by clothing.

It is important to get treatment because the scratching can cause an infection in the skin. In children, mites can cover nearly the entire body.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination and skin test.

Treatment involves a prescription for skin cream. Everyone who has come into contact with the affected person must be treated, even if they show no symptoms.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: vaginal itch or burning, vulvovaginal redness, feeling itchy or tingling all over, butt itch, elbow itch

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Non-specific dermatitis (skin inflammation)

Nonspecific dermatitis, or contact dermatitis, simply means inflammation of the skin from many different causes.

Most nonspecific dermatitis is caused by skin contact with a substance that provokes a reaction, which could be anything from plants to soap to jewelry to fabrics. Some may be due to an autoimmune condition, where the body's immune system attacks itself.

Risk factors include a family or personal history of allergies, asthma, or other condition which weakens the immune system; or constant contact with metals, plant life, or chemicals.

Symptoms commonly include red, swollen skin rash with itching, blistering, or oozing, which may become painful and infected.

Dermatitis itself is not contagious but can interfere with quality of life. A medical provider can help with managing the symptoms.

Diagnosis is made through patient history, physical examination, and sometimes skin biopsy and patch testing.

Treatment involves using protective measures if the substances cannot be avoided; making nutritional improvements to strengthen the immune system; using corticosteroid or other creams; and phototherapy.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: red rash, itchy rash, painful rash

Symptoms that always occur with non-specific dermatitis (skin inflammation): red rash

Urgency: Self-treatment

Dermatofibroma

A dermatofibroma is a common skin growth that usually appears on the lower legs, but may appear anywhere on the body. These growths are benign (noncancerous). Dermatofibromas are most common in adults and are rarely found in children.

Symptoms include a hard, raised growth that is red, pink, ...

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Upper Arm Itch Treatments and Relief

At-home treatment

If your upper arm itch is persistent and/or particularly bothersome, you should be evaluated by a medical professional to determine the diagnosis and treatment. If your upper arm itch is associated with irritation, infection, trauma or injury, some at-home treatments may help while you wait to be examined by a medical provider.

  • Warm or cold compress: Applying a warm water compress can help soothe itchiness and inflammation from an infectious process. Applying a cold water compress or ice can reduce itchiness and irritation from inflammatory or irritating causes like allergic exposure or autoimmune disease.
  • Moisturizer: Repeated applications of lotion to the affected areas can help limit upper arm itch symptoms caused by dryness or caused by issues such as eczema.

When to see a doctor

The urgency with which you should see a medical professional depends on some factors like the duration, severity, and timing of your symptoms. Make an appointment with a primary care provider and try to be evaluated in the next few days if you notice the following:

  • Persistent itchiness
  • Worsening itchiness
  • Itchiness that is gradually spreading up or down the arm
  • Itchiness so severe that it is interfering with your day-to-day activities
  • Fever: Especially if accompanied by increasing or spreading redness, warmth and/or a collection of pus

When it is an emergency

You should seek immediate medical attention if your upper arm itch is associated with any of the following symptoms or factors:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Unexplained and/or extreme fatigue or lack of energy
  • Painful blisters on the skin and in the mouth, nose, eyes and/or genitals
  • Shedding of the skin within days after blisters form
  • Unexplained widespread skin pain

Prevention

Some causes of upper arm itch can be prevented with changes in personal hygiene. Ironically, bathing less can sometimes be the cure. Frequent bathing with hot water can lead to dry skin which can worsen symptoms of upper arm itch. Some soaps can also be irritating to the skin, especially if you develop an allergy to that soap. Avoiding certain soaps or lotions with strong scents or harsh chemicals may help reduce your symptoms. Sticking to mild soaps and lotions is best, especially if they are labeled hypoallergenic.

FAQs About Upper Arm Itch

Will my upper arm itch spread?

It depends on the cause. If your upper arm itch is due to trauma or irritation to a single location it likely will not spread. If your upper arm itch is caused by infection, an autoimmune condition, or an inflammatory skin condition you may notice it spreading as the irritation spreads.

When will my upper arm itch resolve?

The duration of upper arm itch symptoms depends on the cause. Some causes of upper arm itch are acute, meaning they are temporary and short-lived. These causes include allergic exposure, trauma, and infection. However, some causes of upper arm itch are chronic, meaning they can cause symptoms gradually and for an extended period of time or symptoms that come and go over time. This includes causes like autoimmune and inflammatory skin conditions.

Is my upper arm itching contagious?

The itching itself is not contagious but the cause of the itching may be. For example, some infectious causes of upper arm itch like the virus that causes chickenpox and shingles, and the parasite that causes scabies, are very contagious and can be passed on through skin-to-skin contact. Depending on the cause, anyone that lives with you might also require treatment in order to prevent them from getting the same symptoms. A medical professional would be able to determine if your upper arm itch is contagious, and if so, what the best course of treatment would be.

What are potential complications of my upper arm itch?

One of the most worrisome complications of itchiness is severe damage to the skin, which can occur when the desire to scratch is so severe that it causes you to scratch to the point of breaking the skin. This can prevent the skin from doing its natural job as a protective barrier from the outside world. Damage to the skin can leave the underlying tissue exposed to bacteria, viruses, and fungi which can lead to infection.

Why is the itching only in my upper arm?

It depends. You may have damaged only one area of your skin which led to irritation or itchiness in that particular spot. Sometimes upper arm itch is due to exposure to an allergy-causing substance (allergen) and you may have come into contact with an allergen, like poison ivy, that brushed up against your upper arm and caused a reaction that includes itchiness as a symptom.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Upper Arm Itch

To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask the following questions:

  • Do you have a rash?
  • Did your symptoms start after you were exposed to glues, fragrances, preservatives, hair dyes, soaps, detergents, or other common household chemicals?
  • Did your symptoms start after you were exposed to nickel (commonly found in jean snaps, metal pens, paper clips, cigarettes, etc.)?
  • Is the red area flaky and rough to the touch?

The above questions are also covered by our A.I. Health Assistant.

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your upper arm itch

Upper Arm Itch Symptom Checker Statistics

People who have experienced upper arm itch have also experienced:

  • 13% Forearm Itch
  • 5% Shoulder Itch
  • 5% Wrist Itch

People who have experienced upper arm itch were most often matched with:

  • 50% Eczema (Atopic Dermatitis)
  • 25% Allergic Contact Dermatitis Of The Upper Arm
  • 25% Allergic Reaction To Poison Ivy/Oak/Sumac

People who have experienced upper arm itch had symptoms persist for:

  • 37% Over a month
  • 21% Less than a day
  • 19% Less than a week

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

Upper Arm Itch Symptom Checker

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References

  1. Autoimmune diseases. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Updated October 23, 2018. MedlinePlus Link
  2. Eczema. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Updated October 23, 2018. MedlinePlus Link
  3. Scabies - Diagnosis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC Link
  4. Usatine RP, Riojas M. Diagnosis and Management of Contact Dermatitis. Am Fam Physician. 2010 Aug 1;82(3):249-255. AAFP Link

Disclaimer: The article does not replace an evaluation by a physician. Information on this page is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.