Itchy Scalp – Causes and Treatment

Itchy scalp is a common disease of the human mostly occurs in the elderly. Although it may also be seen in the adolescents, itchy scalp due to dry skin is mainly an illness of the older age group. The itchy scalp condition can occur due to several reasons. In this article, we shall discuss about the causes of these conditions and their treatments.

  • Dandruff – dandruff (medically termed as Pityriasis simplex capillitii) is a condition where scaly flakes of dead skins of our scalp are shed off in an exaggerated way. Normally some dead cells are regularly shed off from our scalp and it is a physiological process. But in the sensitized persons, the rate of shedding is overstated and small white flakes can always be seen in the scalp. Exposures to extremes of temperatures, excessive sebum production by the sebaceous cells of the scalp, some naturally occurring fungi are the triggering factors for dandruff. Dandruff can easily be treated by specialized medicated shampoo and keeping the scalp dry. The combination of these medicated shampoos are varied – selenium, salicylic acid, zinc pyrithione, ketoconazole and octane derivatives are the principal ingredients.

seborrheic-dermatitisSeborrheic dermatitis – this is another common condition for itchy scalp. Although the symptoms are quite similar to dandruff, but the cause of seborrheic dermatitis is different. This condition simultaneously affects the scalp, face and forehead, neck, chest and abdomen. The naturally occurring fungus M. furfur has been implicated as a triggering factor of seborrheic dermatitis along with genetic, environmental and hypo immune states. Persons with more number of sweat glands are susceptible to the disease. Deficiency of Vitamin B complex also plays a role in seborrheic dermatitis. The most common symptom of the disease is widespread baldness. The treatments are almost same with dandruff like medicated shampoo comprising salicylates, zinc pyrithione, selenium, antifungal agents like ketoconazole and terbinafine in various combinations. Addition of steroids in these preparations is also being tried with effective results.

  • Sunburn – sunburn is caused by the UV rays present in the spectrum of sunlight. UV rays can burn the superficial cells of the scalp by directly damaging the DNA, thus producing dead cells. These dead cells can lead to itchy scalp. In addition, if there is excess sweat production, the itchy state worsens. The best way to treat sunburn is to avoid sunlight further. One has to wear cap and sun-protective lotions to keep away the harmful effects of sunrays.
  • Psoriasis – this is a chronic auto-immune disease of the skin. Scaly patches appear over the skin and the patient suffers from itchiness all over the body. Scalp Psoriasis is common and can lead to itchy scalp as well. The condition is chronic and gradual in onset. Psoriasis appears mostly on the extensor surface of our body parts. The cause of Psoriasis is controversial. One school of thought considers it as a hyper production of the cells of the skin and the other experts believe that the condition is due to defective function of our immune system. The condition may be varied in person to person and the severity is directly proportional to the chronic state of the disease. Medications which directly target the specific immune component are the mainstay of treatment of psoriasis. Drugs like Alefacept, etanercept, infliximab and adalimumab are some monoclonal antibodies which are widely and effectively used in psoriasis.
  • Pediculosis – pediculosis or head louse can be severely annoying itchy scalp condition. They are small parasite which fed on animal blood for their living. Their infestation can occur almost anywhere of our body and when it is in the scalp, the condition is called pediculosis capitis. As the parasites bite the skin of the scalp, the itchy condition appears. They also lay eggs in the bulb of the hair. The best way to demonstrate a live louse it to comb the hair properly with a louse-comb. Scratching of the scalp can lead to inflammation of the skin. Secondary bacterial infection can lead to ulcer formation making the condition worse. Pediculosis can easily be treated with medicated shampoo and thorough combing. Salicylates and selenium containing shampoo is the best way to treat the condition. Repeated treatment with the shampoo is necessary to effective get rid of from the eggs and the hatched lice.
  • Tinea capitis – this is a condition where a fungus called dermatophyte infects the shaft of the hair. The hair is destroyed and more and more hair comes under the condition. Eventually a significant area of the scalp hair is infected by the fungus. The border of the scalp skin become slightly raised and reddened. The margin is irregular with some scaly changes at the center of the lesion. Continuous itching is the hallmark of the disease which is aggravated by presence of sweat. Scaly flakes can come out from the skin mimicking dandruff. Systemic treatment with antifungal drugs like gresiofulvin, ketoconazole and itraconazole is used in conjunction with topical applications. 4-6 weeks treatment is essential to cure the disease completely. Recent antifungal medicine like terbinafine has been approved by the USFDA and is a very good drug for tinea capitis.
  • Sensitivity to hair care products – sensitive skin towards hair care products can produce an acute itchy scalp. There will be severe inflammation of the scalp leading to redness and an acute itchy condition. Therefore, it is always beneficial if you test run the product by applying a solution of the hair care product over the back of the ear. If any allergic reaction appears, discontinue using the product completely. Symptomatic treatment is sufficient for this condition. Thorough cleaning of the scalp and anti allergic medicine is treatment of choice.
  • Acne vulgaris – acne can occur over the scalp as well. This is again an irritable itchy scalp condition. The passage of the sebaceous gland is blocked by the dead cells and bacteria. Gradually the cell is swollen and the inflammatory condition develops. This can lead to itchy scalp. General medicines for acne are sufficient for the treatment of the condition. Anti allergic drugs can give instant relief from itching.
  • Folliculitis of the scalp – infection of the scalp tissue with bacteria (commonly by Staphylococcus) can lead to itchy scalp. Spread from othe part of the scalp and also from other body part can lead to this condition. Antibiotics and anti-allergic medicines can treat the condition.
  • Chicken pox of the scalp – this is a viral infection of the skin including scalp. In children, fulminant chicken pox can affect the scalp as well. There are crusted, red colored papules present all over the body and condition produces very much itching. Acyclovir and gancyclovir are two good medicines against chicken pox.
  • Lichen planus – lichen planus (a fungus) infection of the scalp can also produce itchy scalp. It can lead to hair loss and scarring. Topical steroid cream and systemic corticosteroids can cure the disease.
  • Poor personal hygiene – last, but not the least is poor personal hygiene. If you do not clean your hair regularly, all sorts of allergens and infective materials can get deposited in the scalp. This can lead to allergic dermatitis and itchy scalp. Adequate cleansing of hair with a proper hair cleanser can cure the condition.

These itchy scalp conditions can sometimes be so much irritating that it can hamper our social life. Therefore, it is always essential to keep the symptoms in mind to diagnose and treat the diseases at their early stages.

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Category: Disease and Conditions

Tags: acne vulgaris, chicken pox scalp, dandruff, folliculitis of the scalp, itch, itchy scalp, itchy scalp causes, itchy scalp treatment, lichen planus, pediculosis, poor personal hygiene, psoriasis, seborrheic dermatitis, tinea capitis