What causes a neck rash?

Neck rashes can be caused by a wide variety of diseases and conditions, such as infection, inflammation, allergic reaction, and autoimmune processes. A sudden or acute neck rash may be due to an allergic reaction or sensitivity to a particular substance, such as jewelry, food or medication. A chronic or long-term neck rash may be caused by such conditions as an inflammatory disorder.

In all age groups, more serious causes of a neck rash include a severe allergic reaction with anaphylaxis (tightening of the airways), bacterial meningitis, and cellulitis, which is an invasive skin infection that can be caused by streptococcal or staphylococcal bacteria.

Infectious causes of neck rashes

A neck rash can be caused by an infection including:

  • Bacterial infection

  • Chickenpox (viral infection)

  • Folliculitis (inflammation or infection of a hair follicle)

  • Fungal infection of the skin (also called ringworm)

  • Herpes virus infection

  • Impetigo (bacterial skin infection)

  • Measles (viral infection)

  • Shingles (viral infection)

Allergic causes of neck rashes

A neck rash can be caused by an allergic reaction including:

  • Allergic contact dermatitis such as from wearing jewelry containing nickel

  • Drug reaction

  • Eczema (atopic dermatitis) including chronic eczema

  • Food allergy

  • Irritant contact dermatitis such as from a detergent

Other causes of neck rashes

A neck rash can also accompany the following conditions:

  • Acne

  • Anxiety or stress

  • Dandruff (seborrheic dermatitis, which can affect the face and neck as well as the scalp)

  • Heat (heat rash)

  • Methamphetamine abuse

Life-threatening causes of neck rashes

In some cases, a neck rash may accompany a serious or life-threatening condition that should be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting. Serious or life-threatening conditions include:

  • Allergic purpura (autoimmune bleeding disorder)

  • Erythema multiforme (type of allergic reaction)

  • Meningitis (caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis)

  • Severe allergic reactions and anaphylaxis

  • Toxic epidermal necrolysis (skin and mucosal loss due to a severe medication reaction)

Questions for diagnosing the cause of a neck rash

To diagnose the underlying cause of a neck rash, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your symptoms. Providing complete answers to these questions will help your provider in diagnosing the cause of a neck rash:

  • Describe the rash. Where is it? What does the rash look like?

  • Did the rash develop suddenly or slowly? Is it constant or intermittent?

  • Is the rash spreading to other areas?

  • Does the rash occur with any particular activity, such as eating?

  • When did the rash first appear?

  • Have you had the rash before?

  • Do you have any other symptoms?

  • Have you been in recent contact with any unusual substances or environments, such as exposure to chemicals or unusual plants, taking new medications or supplements, or traveling to a foreign country?

What are the potential complications of a neck rash?

Complications of a neck rash vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Identifying and treating the underlying cause of a neck rash is important to minimize potential complications, such as introduction of disease-causing bacteria or fungi into the skin. This can occur if there is severe itching and scratching that leads to breakdown of the skin. Following the treatment plan you and your health care provider develop specifically for you will minimize the risk of complications including:

  • Bacterial or fungal infection of the skin

  • Cellulitis

  • Open sores and lesions

  • Permanent change in skin texture

  • Permanent skin discoloration

  • Scarring


  1. Skin rashes and other changes. FamilyDoctor.org. http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/tools/symptom/545.html.
  2. Adult female neck. Skinsight. http://www.skinsight.com/searchResults/adult_Female_Neck.htm.
  3. Rashes. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003220.htm.

What is a neck rash?

A neck rash is an inflammatory reaction of the skin covering the neck, which includes the front of the neck between the head and the chest and the nape of the neck just below the hairline in the back.

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What other symptoms might occur with a neck rash?

A neck rash can occur in isolation or with other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Other symptoms can affect the skin, digestive tract, respiratory system, nervous system, reproductive system, cardiovascular system, or immune system. For example, you may have a fever and other Read more about neck rashsymptoms

Medical Reviewer: Cynthia Haines, MD Last Annual Review Date: Aug 7, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Skin, Hair and Nails

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