Itchy Elbows

Itchy elbows can happen to anyone, regardless of age, and can occur for various reasons. In most cases, itchy elbows are due to dryness, rash or common skin conditions but may be the result of a serious or underlying condition.

Overview

The elbow is the joint between the forearm and upper arm and it sometimes becomes itchy for one reason or another. Feeling that undeniable urge to scratch your elbows can be irritating, uncomfortable and embarrassing particularly if the urge is consistent.

Generally, itchy elbows mean the skin on and around the elbows is dry or inflamed. As much as scratching it to relieve the itch may be instinctive, doing so can actually make the problem worse. Itchiness of the elbows is usually not contagious unless it is caused by bacteria or fungus.

It is important to note that the conditions that cause itchy elbows may be responsible for itchiness on other parts of the body. By looking at the symptoms and your medical history, a doctor can properly diagnose and treat itchy elbows that do not go away with self-care.

Causes of Itchy Elbows

There are several causes of itchy elbows many of which include common skin conditions. The following is a list of those conditions which may not be all-inclusive:

Skin-Related Conditions

Xerosis (dry skin): Harsh weather conditions, i.e., too hot or too cold temperatures, hot baths and showers and harsh soaps and detergents can strip the skin of its natural moisture. Itching about the body and elbows can be the result.

Psoriasis: This occurs due to an inflammatory autoimmune disorder which leads to an overgrowth of skin cells. Plaque psoriasis is a common cause of itching of the elbows, even though it does affect other parts of the body, especially the knees and scalp. The plaques appear as patches of thick, inflamed, scaly skin that is silver in color. Painful cracks (fissures) may be present due to creasing of the elbow.

Contact dermatitis: Certain people have sensitive skin and can easily develop an adverse reaction when their skin touches certain substances, for example, chemicals found in cosmetic products. Soaps, body washes, fragrances and detergents are common skin irritants. Contact with plants such as poison ivy or metals, for example, from cosmetic jewelry, can also cause an itch on the elbow. Contact dermatitis is often accompanied by inflammation of the elbow.

Atopic dermatitis: This condition, also known as eczema, is characterized by dryness of the elbow skin which creates a severe, irresistible urge to scratch the area. The skin appears reddish-brownish covered with tiny bumps on the inner bend of the elbow, raw and swollen. Atopic dermatitis does affect other parts of the body.

Folliculitis: Areas of the body prone to trapping sweat, such as the skin fold of the outer elbow, can develop folliculitis when bacteria or fungus mixes with the sweat and invades the hair follicles. The elbow may itch and become red or swollen and covered with tiny red bumps. Scratching can cause the bumps to break and leak pus.

Urticaria: This is commonly known as skin hives and is due to an allergic reaction. Skin hives cause an outbreak of swollen red bumps on the skin and can occur on the elbow. Itching and a burning sensation are the most common reaction of skin hives. The itching and burning may last for several hours or days.

Other Reasons for Itchy Elbows:

Allergies: In general, foods, chemicals (such as in bath soaps, detergents and cosmetic products), latex and hair dyes are some examples of allergens that may cause itching on the skin and elbow as a symptomatic reaction.

Medical Conditions: Itching about the body, including the elbows, is a common symptom of many diseases or medical conditions. People with diabetes sometimes experience chronic itchiness. Patients with leukemia, kidney failure and cancer also complain of itching.

Medication: Itching can affect the elbow due to an adverse reaction to medication taken. Rash, burning and swelling of the skin may also occur at the site of the itch.

Symptoms of Itchy Elbows

Itching of the elbows may occur with or without other symptoms. It all depends on what is causing the itch. Some symptoms of an itch on the elbows include:

  • Redness, tenderness or swelling of the area around the elbow
  • The appearance of a rash
  • Bumps on or around the area of the elbow
  • Scaling, crusting, or flaking of the elbow skin
  • Burning sensation

When to See a Doctor

  • Symptoms persist (itching with or without other symptoms that do not go away within a few days)
  • Infection (if the skin on the elbow has yellow scabs and pus, these are signs of an infection)
  • Fever (if you develop a fever which is also a sign of an infection)
  • Affects daily function (if persistent itching and symptoms disrupt your daily activities or affect your sleep)

Treatment for Itchy Elbows

Treatment for itchy elbows will depend on the cause of the condition, age of the patient and how long the condition persisted. A doctor may need to treat you with medication for itching caused by bacteria, fungus or an underlying medical condition. Some common ways to treat itchy elbows are as follows:

  • Cold compress or ice packs can be applied to the area to cool the skin and reduce the itch and other symptoms.
  • Home remedies, such as aloe vera or olive oils have been used to temporarily relieve an itch.
  • Moisturizing lotions can soothe and relieve dryness of the skin (will not treat the source of the itch).
  • Topical medicines such as gels, creams, ointments or topical corticosteroid can effectively stop the itch.
  • Prescription medicines, including antibiotics or antifungal medication for itchy elbows caused by bacteria or fungus. In cases of itching that is due to an infection, oral medication may be prescribed.
  • Antihistamines help relieve and stops an itch on the elbows that is due to an allergic reaction.

Preventing Itchy Elbows

  • Keep the skin hydrated by moisturizing daily about two-three times a day.
  • Use mild soaps, bath wash and detergents.
  • Avoid hot baths. Opt for warm or cool baths instead.
  • Limit exposure to harsh weather conditions.
  • Avoid sharing personal care items such as bedding or towels that can spread bacteria or fungus and result in itching.
  • Avoids allergens and irritants that trigger itching due to an allergic reaction.

Warnings

A natural reaction to itchy elbows is to scratch the elbow skin. Despite the discomfort and the irresistible urge to scratch, you should avoid it as much as possible. Itching can break the skin and increase the risk of a skin infection, especially by the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus normally present on the skin. Germs and bacteria present under the fingernails can also infect the wounds created from scratching.