Scalp Itching Causes 1: Head Lice
This isn’t the most common cause of an itchy scalp, but head lice can cause a great deal of scalp irritation.
Although itching is one of the most common symptoms, particularly around the ears and neck, a small number of people with head lice have relatively few symptoms.
Most people think of this as being a disease of children, but it can affect all ages. Head lice are most easily detected by dampening the hair and combine it with a fine-toothed nit comb available at most drugstores.
After combing each section, the comb is carefully checked for the presence of lice eggs, also known as nits.
To treat the itchy scalp, the nits need to be removed by repeated combing followed by treatment with a special shampoo formulated to treat lice.
The combing and shampooing sequence may need to be repeated several times until the comb comes back nit free several times in a row.
Scalp Itching Causes 2: Contact Dermatitis
Contact dermatitis can arise when a new hair product is used that the scalp is sensitive to. Itching is a prominent symptom, but a rash and skin flaking may also be present.
With these symptoms, it’s important to reassess all hair products, particularly new products that have recently been used.
Reactions to hair dyes and perm solutions can also be a cause. Usually, discontinuing the product will solve the problem, but for some people, the itching may be so severe that a steroid cream may be needed.
Scalp Itching Causes 3: Seborrheic Dermatitis
This is a scalp condition characterized by chronic inflammation that leads to itching, flaking, and, in more severe cases, areas of patchy hair loss.
This condition, more commonly known as dandruff, is more commonly seen in men, particularly younger males, although both sexes can be affected.
The cause is still not completely understood.
Does dandruff itch
Dandruff is a condition that causes flakes of skin to form on the scalp, and it can be very itchy.
Dandruff is caused by a fungus called Malassezia. This fungus lives on the skin and feeds on dead skin cells. When the fungus grows too much, it starts producing more oils which can cause dandruff.
The best way to prevent dandruff is by using anti-dandruff shampoo and conditioner, although prescription-strength shampoos may be needed in severe cases. These products contain ingredients that kill off the fungus, such as zinc pyrithione or ketoconazole, which are both antifungal agents.
Scalp Itching Causes 4: Psoriasis
This is a skin condition that can also affect the scalp causing itching, flaking, and the formation of thick plaques.
It can be difficult to distinguish from seborrheic dermatitis, although a personal or family history of psoriasis usually clinches the diagnosis.
This is one cause of scalp itching that needs professional treatment. Medicated shampoos containing coal tar may be useful in mild cases, but prescriptions will probably be needed for more severe outbreaks.
Sunlight has shown promise in the treatment of psoriasis of the scalp. Ultraviolet light combs are now available to treat psoriasis without the need to go outside.
The bottom line? If you’re unsure what’s causing scalp itching, it’s always wise to get a medical consultation. More serious causes such as psoriasis of the scalp are likely to be a chronic condition and should be evaluated by a dermatologist.
I’m a family practice physician with a strong interest in preventive medicine. I trained at the Medical College of Virginia where I earned a medical degree (M.D.) and a master’s degree after graduating with a double bachelor’s degree in biology and psychology.
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