What Causes a Back Itch & How to Find Relief

Reasons for why your back is so itchy can include an allergic reaction from certain hygienic products, chemicals, or plants. Another itchy back cause is shingles, also known as herpes zoster. Read below for more information on causes and how to relieve your back itch.

Back Itch Symptom Checker

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Contents

  1. Symptoms
  2. Causes
  3. 3 Possible Back Itch Conditions
  4. Treatments and Relief
  5. Real-Life Stories
  6. FAQs
  7. Questions Your Doctor May Ask
  8. Statistics
  9. Related Articles
  10. References

Back Itch Symptoms

A back itch can be a bothersome symptom, especially since it can be in hard to reach area. There are several potential causes for a back itch, that may or may not involve a rash. Although scratching may provide relief, the underlying cause should be identified to prevent any skin damage.

Common characteristics of back itch

Scratching associated with a back itch can cause breaks in the skin that can lead to bleeding or infection, often further exacerbating the issue. You should try to avoid the urge to scratch.

Common accompanying symptoms

In addition to itchiness, you may also experience the following symptoms.

  • Pain or tenderness
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Rash
  • Redness
  • Warmth
  • Blisters or bumps
  • Dryness
  • Changes in skin texture: Skin becomes scaly, leathery, or papery

These symptoms may be localized to one area on the back or spread throughout the back. However, it may be difficult to see any skin changes without a second pair of eyes. On the other hand, a back itch may not be associated with visible symptoms at all. Therefore, following up with your physician for proper treatment is important.

Back Itch Causes

An itch, also known as pruritus, occurs due to irritation or stimulation of cells and receptors on the skin, mostly related to nerves. Multiple conditions can stimulate these nerve cells and cause itching [1]. The following details may help you better understand your symptoms; however, you should see your physician for a proper diagnosis.

Localized causes with rash

Skin conditions that involve a rash may include the following.

  • Dermatologic: Many skin conditions such as eczema, hives, psoriasis, and a variety of other illnesses that specifically affect the skin can result in localized itchiness on the back. Often, such conditions are also associated with symptoms such as redness, blisters, or flaking. On the other hand, skin that is simply dry due to old age or temperature changes can also result in itchy skin.
  • Allergens: The skin works primarily as a protective barrier and is very sensitive to environmental factors. Allergens can include drugs, topical treatments such as soaps or lotions, certain fabrics or metals, plants, foods, and a variety of other substances. Itchiness serves as a warning from using these irritants.
  • Infectious: Multiple infectious pathogens, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi can cause itchy, localized infections of the back. For example, varicella zoster is a virus that causes shingles, a very painful and itchy rash that often affects the back.

Localized causes without rash

Localized causes of a back itch that are not associated with rash or skin changes are rare and usually related to psychogenic (a psychological origin or cause rather than a physical one) causes.

Generalized itch

Generalized (all-over) itching on the back may be a sign of an underlying systemic condition. A variety of illnesses can cause itching, including the following.

  • With rash: Metabolic conditions such as diabetes, severe renal disease, and thyroid disease can result in itching that can be associated with a visible rash.
  • Without rash: Conditions that affect the nervous system such as shingles, diabetes, and multiple sclerosis can also result in itching of the back and other parts of the body. The itchiness is generalized and the term “neuropathic itch” is often used to describe itching that occurs due to such causes. Blood conditions, such as anemia and leukemia, can also cause generalized itching without rash in addition to fatigue and weight loss.

3 Possible Back Itch Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced back itch. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Allergic contact dermatitis of the back

Allergic contact dermatitis is a condition in which the skin becomes irritated and inflamed following physical contact with an allergen. Common products known to cause allergic dermatitis include plants, metals, soap, fragrance, and cosmetics.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: back redness, back itch, scabbed area of the back

Symptoms that always occur with allergic contact dermatitis of the back: back redness

Urgency: Self-treatment

Back Itch Symptom Checker

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Dermatofibroma

A dermatofibroma is a common skin growth that usually appears on the lower legs, but may appear anywhere on the body. These growths are benign (noncancerous). Dermatofibromas are most common in adults and are rarely found in children.

Symptoms include a hard, raised growth that is red, pink, ...

Read more

Shingles (herpes zoster)

Shingles is a painful rash that results when the varicella zoster virus (VZV) — the same virus that causes the chickenpox — becomes reactivated. It results in a painful rash of small fluid-filled blisters (vesicles) over a single strip of skin on one side of the body...

Read more

Back Itch Treatments and Relief

At-home treatments

You can stop or prevent many causes of back itch with simple lifestyle changes.

  • Keep the skin adequately moisturized: We often overlook the back in skin moisturizing regimens, predisposing it to dryness. Using unscented, dermatologically tested lotions and moisturizing creams on the back can prevent dryness.
  • Avoid allergens: Take note of symptoms that occur after being around certain substances and try to avoid them. It may be helpful to get formal allergy testing in order to be prepared and knowledgeable about your triggers.

When to see a doctor

If your back itch persists despite the home remedies above, make an appointment with your doctor. If by an underlying metabolic, hematologic, or neurologic condition is causing your itch, your doctor will focus on treating that condition first. If your symptoms are due to another cause, he or she may suggest the following treatments that may help relieve your itchy skin [2].

  • Corticosteroid creams: If your itching is due to a rash or skin disorder such as eczema or dermatitis, corticosteroids are helpful since they are both anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive.
  • Antihistamines: If your itching is due to an allergic reaction, your doctor may prescribe medications that fight the immunologic response causing your inflammation and itching.
  • Light therapy (phototherapy): This treatment involves exposing the skin to specific wavelengths of ultraviolet light.

When it is an emergency

You should seek immediate medical attention for a back itch associated with abscesses that grow in size or become severely painful, as well as if you have a high fever, nausea, or vomiting.

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FAQs About Back Itch

What is postherpetic neuralgia?

Postherpetic neuralgia is a complication of shingles — a painful, itchy and blistering rash caused by the virus varicella zoster. Varicella zoster is a type of virus that can persist in the body and lie dormant in the peripheral nerves for years [3]. When it reactivates, shingles results. Even after the resolution of the initial rash, some individuals may continue to experience severe pain known as postherpetic neuralgia in the area. Often, shingles and postherpetic neuralgia occurs on the lower or upper back.

What is Pityriasis rosea?

Pityriasis rosea is an acute skin rash characterized by red, oval, and scaly lesions that often appear on the back [4]. See an image of pityriasis rosea here. Often, the rash is described as having a “Christmas tree” distribution on the back and can be extremely itchy. Fortunately, this rash is self-limited and often resolves on its own with minimal treatment.

Is a rash always associated with a back itch?

No. Rash is often associated with a back itch in conditions that cause irritation or specifically affect the skin layers. However, in systemic conditions or conditions related to stress or certain allergens, there is often no rash present.

What are the complications of back itch?

Complications of back itch are usually the result of persistent scratching. Scratching can cause breaks in the skin that lead to infection or another skin injury. Furthermore, scratching can lead to scarring and thickening of the skin.

Are my symptoms of back itch temporary or chronic?

Your back itch can be either temporary or chronic depending on the underlying cause. Usually, once the allergen is eliminated or avoided, the back itch resolves. However, back itch associated with chronic conditions such as diabetes or liver disease can persist, especially without adequate treatment.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Back Itch

To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask the following questions:

  • Do you have a rash?
  • Is the red area flaky and rough to the touch?
  • Did your symptoms start after you were exposed to glues, fragrances, preservatives, hair dyes, soaps, detergents, or other common household chemicals?
  • Did your symptoms start after you were exposed to nickel (commonly found in jean snaps, metal pens, paper clips, cigarettes, etc.)?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions

Please take a quiz to find out what might be causing your back itch. These questions are also covered.

Back Itch Quiz

Back Itch Symptom Checker Statistics

People who have experienced back itch have also experienced:

  • 7% Chest Itch
  • 6% Scalp Itchiness
  • 3% Feeling Itchy Or Tingling All Over

People who have experienced back itch were most often matched with:

  • 80% Shingles (Herpes Zoster)
  • 20% Allergic Contact Dermatitis Of The Back

People who have experienced back itch had symptoms persist for:

  • 43% Over a month
  • 22% Less than a day
  • 17% Less than a week

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from Buoy Assistant (a.k.a. the quiz).

Back Itch Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your back itch

References

  1. Pruritus. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Updated June 6, 2018. MedlinePlus Link
  2. Informed Health Online [Internet]. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006-. Eczema: Light therapy and oral medications. 2017 Feb 23. NCBI Link
  3. Shingles: Hope through research. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Published March 2015. NINDS Link
  4. Pityriasis rosea. American Academy of Dermatology. AAD Link

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