An itching sensation on the back (anywhere in the region between the neck and the buttocks) is a common problem that most of us experience at some point. The itching is usually temporary but can sometimes be ongoing (chronic). It may or may not be accompanied by skin rash. Temporary itching is not commonly associated with any skin disease, and resolves on its own. Poor hygiene, excessive sweating, and irritating clothes are the usual causes.
On the other hand, chronic cases of an itchy back may be caused by a skin disease or a lesion. In such cases, the skin disease may not be restricted only to the back, but may also affect the skin in other regions of the body. Since the skin on the back is thicker and less sensitive than the skin in other regions of the body, an itchy back usually means the presence of a strong stimulus or irritation.
Read more on itchy skin.
Sometimes, an itch may be the only symptom. This is usually the case when the itching is temporary. At other times, an itchy back may be accompanied by other persistent symptoms. Some of these symptoms are as follows:
- Dryness of the skin
- Scaly and flaky skin
- Rashes on the skin
- Discoloration of the skin (both hyperpigmentation or hypopigmentation are possible)
- Presence of pimples (papules), boils (abscesses), and blisters (vesicles) on the skin
- Excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis)
Causes of Itchy Back
One of the most common reasons for an itchy back is simply poor hygeine. This is also a commonly overlooked reason for an itchy back. The skin on the back is a difficult-to-reach place for the hands. Consequently, it may not get a proper cleaning during bathing. Over time, this may lead to accumulation of dirt, leading to an itchy back.
Shampoos and hair dyes
There are a variety of hair-care products in the market. These constitute one of the biggest causes of itchy scalps, necks and backs. Most of the shampoos and conditioners are tested extensively before being marketed. They are generally safe to use for most people. However, some people may have an allergic sensitivity to some of the components of these products.
In these individuals, an allergic skin reaction may occur upon contact with the allergens in these shampoos and conditioners. This type of adverse skin reaction to an allergen is known as irritant or allergic contact dermatitis. Hair dyes are more likely to cause such reactions since they contain a substance known as paraphenylenediamine (abbreviated as PPD).
Skin creams and lotions
An itchy back due to contact dermatitis can also be caused by the use of skin creams and lotions. Most of the skin creams and lotions are tested for any adverse skin reactions before they are approved for marketing. However, certain ingredients in these cosmetics may produce an adverse skin reaction in certain individuals. Scented creams and lotions are more likely to cause adverse skin reactions than the unscented varieties.
Tanning lotions and sunscreen creams may also irritate the skin. Lying on the back after application of these creams could aggravate skin irritation caused by pressure and lack of air circulation over the skin of the back. Furthermore, scratching the back to relieve the itch may worsen the condition through development of micro-abrasions on the skin.
Irritation of the skin on the back could also be caused by the type of clothing a person wears. Rough and tight clothing, especially in hot weather, can easily result in chafing of the skin on the back, thereby causing itching. Excessive sweating causes the clothes to be damp for long periods of time. This leads to stickiness and irritation due to rubbing of clothes over the skin of the back. The detergents used to wash the clothes, and the fabric fragrances used afterwards, could also cause skin irritation and itchy back.
The softness of the skin texture is maintained through the secretion of certain oils from glands in the skin. However, the skin can become excessively dry in certain conditions, leading to itchy sensations. This tends to happen when the skin glands produce less oil. Other conditions that can lead to skin dryness include cold weather, contact with harsh soaps, and exposure to chlorinated water in swimming pools. Some skin diseases may also cause dry skin.
Prolonged exposure of the skin to the ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun causes sunburns. The affected skin area becomes darker in complexion. A burning or stinging sensation is also felt. Itching happens as the burning sensation subsides. The skin on the back is most commonly affected when people indulge in sunbathing. Sometimes, mild sunburns occur even if a person is wearing thin clothes.
Acne vulgaris commonly affects the skin on the back area. It is also referred to as back acne. Acne happens when the skin pores become clogged. This leads to formation of pimples, whiteheads, and blackheads. Other skin lesions such as plaques and cysts (with pus) may also occur. Acne is not restricted to the back region. It also affects the skin on the face, chest and shoulders. Itching is a very common symptom of acne.
Infections and infestations
Itching on the back could also be a result of skin infections and infestations. Examples include tinea versicolor, tinea corporis, scabies, lice infestation, shingles, staphyloccocal infections, cellulitis, impetigo and syphilis.
Atopic dermatitis (eczema) is an allergic reaction that causes an itchy skin. It is more common in children, but may also continue into adulthood. The itching in atopic dermatitis becomes worse at night. Constant scratching of the skin to relieve the itch may cause the skin to bleed. The exact cause of this condition is not known.
Read more on eczema.
Generalized pruritis refers to an widespread itching sensation that affects the entire body. The probable causes are kidney diseases, liver diseases, biliary diseases, blood diseases, hormonal disorders and cancers. Sometimes, the exact cause may remain unknown (idiopathic).
Psoriasis is characterized by a thickening of the skin due to abnormalities in the growth of the skin cells. Silvery skin rash with raised red borders is a characteristic presentation of this disease. The scaly skin is also itchy. It is thought that psoriasis is an autoimmune disorder. However, the exact cause is not known.
Neurodermatitis is characterized by a chronic itchy skin. The itch may be due to skin injury, insect bite, skin disease, and even psychological reasons. Sometimes, the cause may not be known at all.