What Causes Itchy Skin on the Back of the Neck?
Itchiness is a primary symptom of psoriasis, hives and contact dermatitis. Each condition can be irritating and unsightly if left untreated. A dermatologist will be able to diagnose the cause of your itchy neck to help speed you along the road to recovery.
Psoriasis is caused by T lymphocytes, which are white blood cells that mistakenly activate an immune system response. The cause of the immune system malfunction is unclear, but genetics and triggers such as infection, trauma, stress and alcohol likely play a role, according to the Mayo Clinic website. Hives are often caused by the immune system releasing histamine in response to insect bites, infections, foods, antibiotics and additives, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Contact dermatitis can be caused by irritants or an allergic reaction to a substance. Common irritants are metals, soaps, chemicals, solvents and detergent, and common allergens are latex, fragrances, plants and skin creams, according to Penn State's Milton S. Hershey Medical Center College of Medicine.
If you're a psoriasis sufferer, when T cells are mistakenly activated, it causes healthy skin cells to be attacked and new skills cells move to outer layers of the epidermis in days rather than weeks. Your skin is unable to slough off fast enough, which causes red patches with silvery scales. Your skin may be dry and, in addition to itching, it might burn or be painful. Hives can last up to six weeks and typically begins as an itch that breaks out into a cluster of pink bumps on your neck after it is scratched, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Contact dermatitis may appear as a rash that ranges from mild to severe; blistering may also occur.
A family physician or dermatologist can easily diagnose the three common causes of itchy skin on the neck. With psoriasis, however, a doctor may perform a small skin biopsy to examine under a microscope to confirm a diagnosis. For hives and contact dermatitis, it's important to diagnose the allergen or irritant and not just the skin problem. The doctor may perform a patch test during which she will apply applies a small amount of substances onto the skin to determine which substance caused a reaction.
Interrupting the increased skin cell production cycle and removing the silver scales is the focus of treatment for psoriasis. A daily bath can be used to remove scales. Anthralin normalizes the DNA activity with the epidermal cell, according to the Mayo Clinic. Anti-inflammatory drugs, salicylic acid, phototherapy and topical tretinoin can also help with treatment of psoriasis. Typically, no treatment is necessary for hives, although antihistamines can be used. In emergency situations, an injection of epinephrine may be required, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. For contact dermatitis, an antihistamine can be used in combination with ointments or lotions for the itching.
For all three skin problems, scratching can increase the risk of open sores that lead to skin infections. If the skin on the back of your neck is infected, contact your doctor since an antibiotic will need to be prescribed. Some infections, such as cellulitis, can potentially result in death if left untreated.
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