Itchy bumps on elbows: Common causes and treatments

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Medically reviewed by Dr. Mandy Liedeman

Overview

Various conditions can cause itchy bumps on your elbow. Allergies, acne, ingrown hair, eczema, psoriasis, skin irritation, and arthritis are some conditions that lead to itchy or pimple-like bumps on elbows. These bumps can be skin-colored, white, brown, or red.

This article highlights the most frequent causes of pimples and bumps on elbows. It also explores treatment options for major causes of itchy bumps on your elbow.

What can cause itchy bumps on elbows?

Bumps on elbows are usually not a cause of concern. Many resolve on their own, while sometimes a rash on elbows is caused by a chronic condition and may require treatment. Whatever the reason behind the itchy bumps on your elbows, ensure that you do not rub or squeeze the bumps, as that can worsen the condition. Acne, folliculitis, boils, Keratosis Pilaris, Lichen Nitidus, Eczema, and Psoriasis are some conditions that lead to red bumps on elbows. Treatment options will vary according to the severity of your condition.

Are you wondering what is causing bumps on my elbow?

Following are some of the conditions that lead to itchy bumps on elbows:

Acne

Acne can be the culprit behind little bumps on the elbow. A pimple usually appears when hair follicles located under the skin are clogged. Common areas of the body where bumps or pimples appear include the back, face, neck, and shoulders. Bumps around elbows are another common finding.

Acne commonly affects the teenage group but can affect anyone. Acne can be triggered by:

  • Hormonal changes
  • Using greasy skin products
  • Excessive sweating 
  • Certain medications, such as steroids and progestin-only birth control
  • Stress and dietary habits can significantly worsen acne.

Keratosis Pilaris

Bumpy elbows can be caused by Keratosis pilaris, also known as “chicken skin.” These bumps are painless, rough, dry, and vary in color. Commonly affected sites are upper arms, elbows, cheeks, thighs, and buttocks. Keratosis pilaris usually resolves on its own. 

Boils

A pimple on the elbow can develop into a boil, a deep sore lump in the skin caused by bacteria that forms an abscess. Boils on the elbow are painful. These sores on elbows can start as small pimples and then increase in size. 

Boils should not be squeezed as this may result in spreading the infection. In some cases, draining the boil is required.

Folliculitis

Red, itchy bumps on elbows can be due to folliculitis. This condition arises from inflammation or infection of the hair follicles. It can show up as bumps on elbows and knees or anywhere on the skin with hair follicles. Folliculitis occurs when the hair follicles are damaged or infected. The condition can be symptomless, or the skin may feel itchy or painful or present as white bumps on elbows.

Eczema

Eczema may cause bumps on the elbows of a child. Also termed atopic dermatitis. This chronic condition can result in a rash on the elbow. This non-contagious inflammatory skin condition causes red, itchy, and swollen skin.

Eczema is classified as an immune-mediated disorder often triggered by detergents, changes in climate or stress in which the immune system exhibits an inappropriate inflammatory response. Eczema compromises the skin’s barrier function, leading to cracked skin that can itch intensely. The elbows, knees, face, neck, arms, and legs are commonly affected.

Do you have small bumps on your elbows? Connect with our doctor for prompt treatment!

Dermatitis Herpetiformis 

This autoimmune condition causes an itchy, blistering rash. This typically appears after consuming gluten and is one of the possible symptoms of celiac disease. Also known as gluten rash or celiac rash, this can present as hives on elbows.

The term “Herpetiformis” refers to the rash’s blistering/ herpes-like appearance, even though the actual cause is immune dysfunction. 

These fluid-filled blisters are most commonly seen on the elbows, scalp, back of the neck, knees, buttocks, back, groin, hairline and face. These symptoms occur alongside other symptoms of celiac disease, including bloating, abdominal pain, loose stools, weight loss, and fatigue.

Those who have celiac disease can be affected by dermatitis herpetiformis.

Vitamin A Deficiency

Vitamin A deficiency may give arise to the development of phrynoderma, or “toad skin.” Phrynoderma is characterized by dry skin patches with small, rough, skin-colored papules, which commonly occur on the elbows and knees.

Although Vitamin A deficiency is rare, it requires treatment as it can lead to blindness or, even worse, death. If you develop signs of phrynoderma or any such symptoms, consult a physician immediately.

Lichen Nitidus

Lichen nitidus is a dermatological condition resulting in tiny, skin-colored papules clusters. These papules can present as itchy bumps on the elbow and commonly affect the arms, legs, and torso. Lichen nitidus is more common in children and young adults. 

This harmless condition is not painful and self-resolving. In rare cases, it may present as an itchy rash on elbows. Lichen nitidus tends to develop on skin areas affected by a previous injury. 

Psoriasis 

Psoriasis results in sore patches of thick, discolored skin with silvery scales affecting the knees, elbows, palms, back, face, scalp, and other parts of the body.

Psoriasis is caused by issues with the immune system. Depending on the severity and lifestyle of the affected individual, symptoms can occur on and off. This condition may be confused with other dermatological conditions.

Speak to our doctor so they can give a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

How do I get rid of little bumps on my elbows?

The treatment protocol depends on the condition and the severity of your symptoms. The aim is to manage the symptoms as actively as possible.

For conditions such as psoriasis, there are several options, including: 

  • Emollient moisturizers
  • Coal tar shampoos, creams, or oils
  • Phototherapy
  • Topical steroids like triamcinolone
  • Injected steroids like triamcinolone
  • Topical vitamin D analogs like calcipotriene
  • Topical retinoids like tazarotene
  • Oral retinoids like acitretin
  • Oral immunosuppressants methotrexate
  • Topical calcineurin inhibitors like tacrolimus
  • Injected biologics like apremilast

Acne treatment options include:

For eczema and some other conditions:

Treatment of other conditions can vary and may involve a combination of lifestyle changes alongside prescription medications.

When should I be worried about itchy bumps?

The cause of itchy bumps on elbows can simply be acne. However, other conditions that may produce pimples or a rash include eczema, folliculitis, and psoriasis. A regular pimple resolves on its own, but for conditions that worsen or do not resolve, it is always a good idea to contact your doctor for the right diagnosis and prompt treatment.

Consult a doctor

Knowing the difference between different conditions that cause itchy bums on the elbows can help ensure that you receive the treatment you deserve.

Pay close attention to your symptoms and connect with one of our doctors at Your Doctors online for the right diagnosis and treatment.

FAQs about Itchy bumps on elbows

What triggers eczema on elbows?

Some things that can trigger eczema include:
Soaps/detergents or other chemicals
Environmental factors/allergens including pollen, dust mites and temperature changes.
Food allergies are usually caused by milk, nuts, and wheat.
Stress
Hormonal changes

What does stress rash look like on elbows?

A stress rash often resembles hives, which are raised red bumps that can be red, pink, or skin-colored. These can affect any part of the body but commonly appear on the face, arms, neck, or chest.

What cream is good for rashes on elbows?

Hydrocortisone cream, such as 1%, is often very effective to soothe a rash or irritation on the skin.

What does psoriasis on elbows look like?

Psoriasis on elbows typically appears as itchy, red, scaly plaques. These can crack or bleed and may affect both elbows.

Your Doctors Online uses high-quality and trustworthy sources to ensure content accuracy and reliability. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions and medical associations to provide up-to-date and evidence-based information to the users.

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  • Parveda, Amruth Rao; Upputuri, Brahmaiah; Hemalatha, R. Phyrnoderma: Associated nutritional co-morbodities among children attending at Nutrition Clinic, Osmania General Hospital, Hyderabad, India. Indian Journal of Paediatric Dermatology 17(2):p 108-111, Apr–Jun 2016. | DOI: 10.4103/2319-7250.175657
  • Ané Orchard, Sandy van Vuuren, “Commercial Essential Oils as Potential Antimicrobials to Treat Skin Diseases”, Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol. 2017, Article ID 4517971, 92 pages, 2017. https://doi.org/10.1155/2017/4517971
  • American Academy of Dermatology Association. ACNE-LIKE BREAKOUTS COULD BE FOLLICULITIS
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