What Causes an Itchy Neck?

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PeopleImages / Getty Images

Medically reviewed by Brendan Camp, MD

A wide range of conditions can cause an itchy neck—such as eczema, psoriasis, and diabetes. This itchiness is medically also known as pruritus. An itchy neck usually isn’t a sign of anything serious and typically resolves on its own. However, if your itching persists for longer than two weeks or spreads from the neck to other parts of your body, it may be a sign of a more serious skin condition or allergy.

Fortunately, home remedies and medications can keep your symptoms at bay.

What Does an Itchy Neck Feel Like?

Itchiness causes the uncomfortable urge to scratch your skin. The itchiness can range from mild (needing to scratch from time to time) to severe (wanting to scratch your skin constantly). The symptoms of your itchy neck will depend on the underlying cause. Of course, the most common symptom of an itchy neck is itchiness. You may also experience the following:

  • Skin redness

  • Stinging sensation

  • Neck pain

  • Rashes, bumps, or spots

  • Flaky or dry skin

  • Leathery or scaly skin

  • Swelling

  • Cracks in the skin

  • Acanthosis nigricans (patches of smooth, blackened skin around your skin folds)

Depending on the cause, the itch can also vary in intensity and duration. An itchy neck due to dry skin is temporary. If an underlying skin condition is the culprit, symptoms tend to last longer than two weeks.

Common Causes of an Itchy Neck

An itchy neck has a wide range of causes—most of which are harmless and can be easily managed. However, skin disorders, underlying health conditions, allergies, and exposure to certain substances can cause chronic (long-term) itchiness.

Dry Skin

In most cases, the cause of an itchy neck is just dry skin. Cold temperatures, air conditioning, dry climates, swimming in chlorinated pools, washing or scrubbing yourself too much, and using certain beauty products can all affect your skin’s ability to retain moisture. In more serious cases, dry skin can also occur due to aging, medication side effects, and certain underlying conditions.


Eczema (atopic dermatitis) is an inflammatory skin condition that causes patches of itchy, flaky, and scaly skin. The patches often develop on the face, neck, elbows, hands, or feet, which can also cause symptoms like swelling and soreness.


Psoriasis is an autoimmune disorder that causes pruritus. This condition occurs when your immune system overreacts, causing rapid skin cell turnover which leads to swollen and itchy patches. It's worth noting, however, that itchiness with this condition isn't constant.

People with psoriasis experience flares (periods when symptoms are active) and remission (periods when you don't experience symptoms at all).

Contact Dermatitis

An itchy neck can also occur due to an allergic reaction called contact dermatitis. This condition causes an itchy rash, swelling, hives (blisters), and skin redness that typically develops one to three days after the skin comes into contact with an allergen (something that causes an allergy). Common causes of contact dermatitis include:

  • Latex

  • Metals, such as nickel or brass

  • Poison ivy or poison oak

  • Certain perfumes or fragrances

  • Bug bites

  • Itchy or rough fabrics

  • Thimerosal, a preservative found in certain topical antibiotics

Allergic Shock

Itchiness and hives (red bumps) around the body are early signs of allergic shock (also known as anaphylaxis). This condition is a medical emergency—and medications, certain foods (such as peanuts or shellfish), and insect bites can all cause anaphylaxis to occur.

This condition can become fatal if you don't receive treatment right away. If you or a loved one develop the following symptoms, it's important to seek medical care urgently:

  • Hives

  • Itchiness

  • Sweating

  • Wheezing

  • Swelling in the face or limbs (arms or legs)

  • Low blood pressure

  • Fast or weak heartbeat

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Dizziness

  • Loss of consciousness

Parasites and Fungi

Parasites and fungi are microorganisms that can infect the skin, leading to itchiness throughout your body. Some of the most common parasitic and fungal infections include:

  • Scabies: A mite that causes rashes, itchiness, and pimple-like growths on the skin

  • Head lice: Tiny insects that live on the skin (often on the scalp or neck) and cause itchiness and sores

  • Tinea capitis (scalp ringworm): Fungus that lives on the scalp which causes itchiness, skin redness and irritation, papules (red growths), and sometimes patches of hair loss

Underlying Health Conditions

Conditions that affect other parts of your body or the whole body can also cause pruritus. An itchy neck can be a symptom of the following conditions:

  • Shingles: Virus that causes a painful and itchy rash to form

  • Chronic kidney disease: Causes itchiness alongside other symptoms like changes in urination patterns, loss of appetite, muscle cramps, nausea and vomiting, and weight loss  

  • Diabetes: Occurs when your body can't properly digest sugars, leading to symptoms like nerve damage, slow wound healing, itchiness, and tingling in the arms and legs

  • Obstructive biliary disease: Develops when the gallbladder ducts become blocked, causing symptoms like itchy skin, jaundice, nausea, vomiting, pain, fever, and unexplained weight loss

  • Liver diseases: Conditions like hepatitis and liver cancer can also cause itchy skin, jaundice, abdominal swelling, and changes in bowel movements

  • Thyroid disease: Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), and thyroid cancer can cause dry and itchy skin, changes in weight, fatigue, and goiter

Cancer and Cancer Treatment

Cancer and itching can go often hand in hand. Itchiness can be a symptom of cancers of the skin, blood, liver, gallbladder, or bile duct. However, itchy skin, sores, and infections are also common side effects of cancer treatments like chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, and targeted therapy.

Medication Side Effects

In some cases, you may experience an itchy neck because of the medication you're taking. Some medicines that can cause itchiness as a side effect include:

  • Opioids like Oxycontin (oxycodone)

  • Antibiotics like Bactrim (trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole) and Penicillin G (benzylpenicillin)

  • Calcium-channel blockers like Norvasc (amlodipine) and Plendil (felodipine)

  • Beta-blockers like Tenormin (atenolol) or Lopresor (metropolol)

  • Diuretics like Microzide (hydrochlorothiazide)

  • Statins like Lipitor (atorvastatin) and Lescol XL (Fluvastatin)

  • Blood thinners like Heparin

Psychogenic Itch

A psychogenic itch occurs when psychological factors trigger pruritis or make it worse. For example, itchy skin can develop as a result of a mental health condition such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), anxiety, and depression. However, psychological stress can also trigger flare-ups of chronic skin disorders, like eczema and psoriasis.

When to Contact a Healthcare Provider

While an itchy neck usually isn't a sign of something serious, it's important to understand when you should see a healthcare provider for support. Consider calling your provider if you develop any of the following signs:

  • Symptoms that last longer than two weeks or are disrupting your daily life

  • Itchiness that worsens

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) medications, moisturizers, or other home remedies aren’t working

  • Additional signs of a skin infection, such as swelling, fever, or chills

When you see your healthcare provider, they'll order some tests to help determine a diagnosis and begin treatment if necessary. If your condition is more serious or could benefit from a specialist, your provider may refer you to a dermatologist (a skin doctor) or an allergist (a doctor who specializes in allergies) for extra support.

Treatments for Itchy Neck

The goal of treatment for itchiness is to ease symptoms and prevent them from occurring again. Your exact treatment plan will depend on the underlying cause of your itchy neck but may include home remedies, medications, medical procedures, or a mix of all three.

Home Remedies

If dry skin is causing an itchy neck, healthcare providers often recommend home remedies as the first line of treatment. These remedies can also ease symptoms of underlying skin conditions. Consider the following strategies:

  • Moisturize: Apply hypoallergenic moisturizing creams, oils, or lotions two to three times a day, especially after showering or bathing.

  • Change your bathing habits: Take short and lukewarm baths or showers, use mild soaps, and try oatmeal baths or bathing oils for symptom relief.

  • Use cold compresses: Apply a cold, wet compress to affected areas to help improve swelling and itchiness. For eczema, wet wrap therapy involves applying medicated, wet wraps to the skin after a bath.

  • Avoid scratching: Stopping yourself from scratching can help reduce the risk of a skin infection. Wearing loose fabrics and avoiding heat or humidity can also help limit how often you scratch your skin.

  • Take OTC medications: OTC hydrocortisone cream or topical antihistamines often help reduce itching. You can apply these creams directly onto your skin to keep symptoms at bay.


When home remedies alone can't manage an itchy neck, your provider may recommend or prescribe one of the following medications:

  • Antihistamines: Oral anti-allergy medications, such as Claritin (loratadine)

  • Topical corticosteroids: Medication you can apply directly to the skin, such as hydrocortisone cream

  • Immunosuppressant drugs: Rheumatrex (methotrexate) or Gengraf (cyclosporine), which reduce immune system activity to help relieve symptoms

  • Monoclonal antibodies: An injection medication like Dupixent (dupilumab) injection to reduce severe itchiness

  • Topical antiparasitic medications: Medicines like Nix Cream Rinse (permethrin) to treat pruritis due to scabies or lice

Medical Procedures

For persistent cases of eczema and psoriasis, phototherapy is an additional option for symptom relief. This procedure involves using ultraviolet B (UVB) emitting lamps that give off light directly to your skin to reduce the presence of skin patches and accompanying symptoms, like swelling or itchiness.

How To Prevent an Itchy Neck

Fortunately, there are several things you can do to prevent itchiness from recurring. Prevention strategies can keep your skin moisturized, promote skin health, and prevent flares of underlying skin conditions. Consider taking the following steps:

  • Drink more water

  • Limit alcohol intake

  • Moisturize and exfoliate your skin with gentle and moisturizing products

  • Avoid hot baths or showers longer than 10 minutes long

  • Add oil and soap at the end of your bath

  • Minimize fragrances, perfumes, cosmetics, and beauty products that may irritate skin

  • Stop using dryer sheets with added scents or preservatives

  • Don’t wear tight-fitting, scratchy, or irritating clothing

  • Use a humidifier in your home

  • Wear sunscreen or protective clothing during the day

  • Try stress management techniques, such as meditation or yoga


Scratching the same spot repeatedly due to eczema, psoriasis, or another chronic itch can irritate the skin and break it, which can lead to infection. Your risk of infection risk is higher if the itchiness is a side effect of cancer treatment or a symptom of a condition that affects your immunity.

Scarring or permanent changes to your skin can also occur.

A Quick Review

An itchy neck often occurs due to dry skin. However, underlying conditions like allergies, eczema, or diabetes can also cause itchiness. While an itchy neck is nothing to be concerned about, contact your healthcare provider if your itchiness lasts longer than two weeks or worsens. They can get you started on treatment sooner, which may include home remedies, medications, and medical procedures.

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