What is itchy scalp?
An itchy scalp, or scalp pruritus, is a feeling of itchiness that affects the scalp – the skin that covers your head where hair grows. An itchy scalp can feel tingly or painful. Scratching or itching your scalp may help you feel better, or it could cause pain. Although an itchy scalp doesn’t typically indicate a severe medical concern, it can be a symptom of an underlying condition.
How common is itchy scalp?
Itchy scalp is extremely common. It can occur in patients in any gender at any age. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
Which signs and symptoms can itchy scalp usually be associated with?
Related signs and symptoms include:
- Scabbed or flaking skin
- Bald patches
- Dry skin
- Irritated skin
- Low-grade fever
- Pus-filled sores
- Scales or patches on the scalp
- Scalp swelling
- Sores on the scalp
What causes itchy scalp?
Causes of itchy scalp can include:
- Seborrheic dermatitis. Also known as dandruff, this type of dermatitis is most likely to occur in areas of sebaceous or oil-secreting glands, including the scalp and face. In infants, the condition is called cradle cap or crib cap. While doctors don’t know the exact cause of seborrheic dermatitis, some potential causes include a yeast overgrowth on the skin, seasonal changes, hormonal fluctuations or stress.
- Like dandruff, it’s caused by the rapid replacement of new skin cells, causing an excess of old skin. This is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes raised, reddish, scaly patches on the skin or scalp. You can’t get psoriasis from other people. Experts don’t have a clear understanding of what exactly causes this skin disorder, but you’re more likely to develop it if someone in your family has it. Psoriasis can cause the skin on the scalp to become dry and scaly, and in serious cases, you may notice temporary hair loss.
- Tinea capitis. This is a fungal infection commonly known as ringworm, which can infect the scalp. Tinea capitis extends deep into the hair follicle, causing round patches of hair loss that increase in size over time. The rash may appear raised and with black dots or a stubbly appearance. Since the organism exists deep in the hair follicle, you’ll need to take oral anti-fungal medications to resolve the problem. Your doctor will verify that this is actually what’s causing the problem before prescribing these powerful medications.
- Head lice. Although most people think of schoolchildren when they hear about head lice, they can invade anyone’s scalp. Lice prefer clean hair, so having a case of head lice doesn’t mean you have poor hygiene. If you look closely, you can see tiny nits (eggs) attached to individual hair strands. They look a bit like dandruff, but they aren’t easily shaken off because they’re “glued” to the hair shaft. You might also be able to see adult lice moving around the head, but they’re harder to spot than the nits.
- Eczema is another condition which causes itchy, red and dry skin on the scalp. Complications of eczema include infection of the skin, as bacteria can more easily breach broken skin. Eczema is common and may run in families; moreover there are a number of triggers that can cause an eczema outbreak, including sweat, stress, heat, allergies and dust.
- Allergic reactions. Allergies are a possible cause of scalp itch. Allergic reactions will generally go away on their own if you can identify and avoid the chemical to which you are allergic. This is challenging and specialized tests in a dermatologist’s office may be needed to sort out which chemical is causing the allergy.
Other possible causes include:
- Diabetes mellitus
- Shingles (herpes zoster)
- Anxiety disorder
- Contact dermatitis
- Discoid lupus
- Hot comb alopecia, due to frequent heat styling
- Migraine headaches
- Scarring alopecia
The conditions mentioned above are some common causes of itchy scalp. Consult with your doctor for an accurate diagnosis.
What increases my risk for itchy scalp?
Please consult with your doctor for further information.
When to see your doctor
When should I see my doctor?
You should contact your doctor if you or your loved one has any of the following:
- Persistent and/or intense itchiness
- Hair loss
- Scalp pain
- Signs of nits or lice
On noticing one of these symptoms or having any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor to get the best solutions for your situation.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage itchy scalp?
These following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with itchy scalp:
- Applying warm olive oil to the scalp can help soften and loosen itchy crusts and scales on the surface of the skin.Warm up the olive oil in the hands before applying it to the scalp, and massage it into the skin. Leave the olive oil on the scalp for several hours before washing it out using a medicated shampoo such as coal tar or salicylic acid.
- Apple cider vinegar contains high levels of a natural substance called acetic acid. People have used this acid as a wound disinfectant for thousands of years due to its antibacterial and antifungal properties.pple cider vinegar may be particularly effective in relieving psoriasis-related scalp itch.
- Lemongrass oil may be an effective treatment for dandruff, according to a 2015 randomized controlled trial.Results suggest that applying lemongrass oil to the scalp twice daily for 2 weeks may help reduce dandruff.
- Ketoconazole shampoo. Ketoconazole is another antifungal agent that helps reduce numbers of Malassezia yeast on the scalp. People can use this shampoo as directed on the bottle, which may be twice per week. Stop using the shampoo if dandruff worsens or shows no signs of improvement after 1 month. Ketoconazole shampoo is not suitable for children under 12 or for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Those with broken skin or scalp inflammation should also avoid using products containing ketoconazole.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor for the best solutions.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
What Causes Itchy Scalp? https://www.healthline.com/symptom/itchy-scalp. Accessed March 1, 2019.
Itchy Scalp. https://www.babylonhealth.com/what-we-treat/skin-conditions/itchy-scalp. Accessed March 1, 2019.
Do You Have an Itchy Scalp? 5 Common Problems and Fixes. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/itchy-scalp-5-common-problems-and-fixes/. Accessed March 1, 2019.
Best home remedies for an itchy scalp. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324126.php. Accessed March 1, 2019.
Review Date: March 1, 2019 | Last Modified: March 1, 2019