13 . January . 2020 BY Dr. Sharmishtha Deshpande

Itchy Scalp – a phrase most commonly associated with Dandruff? Poor hygiene? Winter season? Or is it something more?

An itchy scalp is something that almost everyone is familiar with; a condition that a person would have experienced at some point or the other in their lifetime, whatever the root cause! When your scalp is constantly itchy, it becomes difficult to focus and do things at peace. Highly annoying…scratching your head constantly but finding no relief! Not to mention the absolute embarrassment at being caught scratching and pulling at your hair!

Now, if you have been itching constantly, with no solution in sight, think over, think again… it could be something more than just the winter weather!!

Here are 10 reasons why you maybe suffering from an itchy scalp. Understand the possible root causes, the symptoms and the differences between the various conditions so as to address it effectively!

  1. Dandruff
    Dandruff, simply put, is a scalp problem caused by flaking of skin tissues of the scalp. The result is white flakes appearing all over the scalp and on the hair shafts. While it sounds like a serious scalp concern, it is in fact a natural process of peeling of dead skin cells off the scalp. In most cases, when you have a normal scalp condition, this process goes unnoticed. However, if you are someone with dandruff-scalp, you face a disorder to the process, and often the departing cells are not even dead before leaving the scalp. It is thus the extent and intensity that creates an issue. High and chronic levels of dandruff need fair attention, making tricho anti-dandruff treatment and hair care, a significant need. Do read our blog on the topic to understand this better and how to tackle it right.
    Symptoms:

    • Stress & pollution
    • Irregular/ imbalanced diet
    • Improper hair care regimen – improper oiling/washing/shampooing
    • Not brushing hair enough
    • Exposure to hard water, bad weather or arc lights
  2. Head Lice
    Unlikely that you are unfamiliar with this term or the disaster that it can cause! Lice are tiny, wingless parasitic creatures that live on your scalp & can multiply uncontrollably if not attended to in time. While it is a very common problem seen in children below the age of 12, lice can also be seen on the scalp of adults. They are predominantly found in their mature form, or in the egg-form (nits) behind the ears and along the neckline. Besides they are also found fairly spread across the length of the hair. They pass easily from one head to another, especially in school children.
    Symptoms:

    • Tickling sensation/ A feeling of movement on hair & scalp
    • Small red bumps on the scalp
    • Frequent uncontrollable scratching of the scalp – sudden itchy reactions
    • Irritability every now and then
    • Visible lice on your hair strands
  3. Sunburn and Sweat
    Constantly scratching your head but unable to spot any other symptom? It’s possible that you are reacting to a sunburn. Being out in bright sun affects your hair as well as scalp thereby burning your skin & causing inflammation. When unprotected the scalp may get heated up and burnt. Dehydration adds to this as well.
    The other side of this – sweat. Long hours of physical activity in the sun also make you sweat on the scalp a fair deal. Itchy scalp after heavy workouts at the gym is also quite common! If you do not wash off the sweat and grime accumulated thus, it is bound to cause scalp disorders, all of which would begin with an itch!
    Symptoms:

    • Inflammation & itchiness on the scalp & skin.
    • Feeling excessively hot on the head.
    • Scalp irritation when out in the sun – a burning sensation
  4. Allergic reaction to hair products
    A frequent feature in recent times. Allergic reactions to hair products. Anyone using a new hair dye or colour or new styling tool can have an allergic reaction causing an itch. If you are someone who follows our blogs, you would read about the hazards of using off-the-shelf hair products without checking on its suitability for your hair and scalp. Many of these products have harmful chemicals, and some may suit on but not the neighbour. Choosing the right product, be it your oil, shampoo, conditioner, hair colour or serum, is best done under the guidance of trichologist. If something doesn’t suit you, you will surely have indications of it on your scalp, starting with an itch or inflammation of your scalp.
    Symptoms:

    • Dry itchy scalp
    • Scalp irritation when you shower or comb
    • Burning sensation in parts
    • Dry brittle hair prone to breakage
    • Colour and texture change of hair and scalp
    • Inflammation of the scalp skin in severe cases
    • Hair fall
  5. Scalp Psoriasis
    While white flakes falling off the head is largely presumed to be dandruff , we need to remember that there are other conditions that cause flaking as well. Psoriasis and specifically Scalp Psoriasis is something that often gets confused with dandruff, which is a milder problem than the former. It is also often confused with Eczema or Seborrheic Dermatitis Psoriasis is an auto-immune condition that affects the skin anywhere in the body & even scalp! Scalp Psoriasis can affect both, children as well as adults leading to severe psychological problems if not diagnosed & treated on time.
    Symptoms:

    • Excessive flaking. Constant irritation on the scalp.
    • Dry, rough patches along the hairline.
    • Severity – Scalp bleeding after the peeling of scales.
    • Feeling intense burning on exposure to sun.
  6. Tinea Capitis
    In simple words, Tinea Capitis is a particular type of fungal infection of the scalp, hair shafts & hair follicles. Commonly recognised as a Hair & Scalp problem in young children, this condition leads to forming a ring-shaped mark on the scalp (ringworm). The infecting fungi basically grow from the skin towards the hair in the inner layer & gradually invades the scalp skin. The hair shaft is hence damaged already as it grows out, resulting in breakage and visible black dots.
    Moreover, if not addressed on time, it can also massively spread across the scalp causing scarring, scaly red or bald patches all around.
    Tinea Capitis has specific clinical indications and only a Trichologist can diagnose the concern correctly.
    Symptoms:

    • Ring-shaped rashes
    • Formation of scaly red patches and yellow crust on the scalp
    • Swollen black dots due on the scalp
    • Painful inflamed nodules on the scalp
    • Permanent hair loss in very severe cases
  7. Dermatitis
    Dandruff is considered as the milder variant of seborrheic dermatitis that causes flaking and scaling of the scalp skin. Dermatitis is a condition that occurs in many forms and can be traced from multiple causes. It is a chronic inflammation on skin usually making the scalp itchy, red, swollen and dry. While there are many types of dermatitis, Seborrheic dermatitis, is perhaps most common. This condition can be treated & cured. It is very often confused with some other skin conditions such as psoriasis, contact/atopic dermatitis, and erythrasma may be confused with seborrheic dermatitis. It is best diagnosed by a trichologist.
    Symptoms:

    • Redness on the scalp with an itchy rash and flaky scales
    • Eruptions, redness, burning, swelling, and itching on the scalp
    • Uneven skin lesions
    • Greasy appearance of skin
    • Dry flakes that shed easy
    • Burning or itching of skin and scalp.
  8. Scalp Eczema
    Very commonly thought to be a severe case of dandruff, scalp eczema is actually a skin condition that causes inflammation on the scalp, making it itchy and dry. Atopic Dermatitis or Chronic Eczema is persistent and is identified as a serious skin condition – as a disease. When Seborrheic Dermatitis becomes chronic and severe, it can lead to Scalp Eczema. Scalp Eczema cannot be ‘cured’. But can be managed with the help of a trichologist.
    Symptoms:

    • Itching of the scalp – burning sensation when you itch
    • Severe dryness of scalp
    • Scaling that is flaky in nature
    • Redness of scalp
    • Inflammations on the scalp
    • Oozing of secretions from lesions, if not treated in initial stages
    • Colour changes seen on the scalp after the disappearance of a lesion
  9. Alopecia
    This is perhaps an extreme case to be discussed when speaking of an itchy scalp – but it is a possibility. Itchy scalp, along with a bunch of other symptoms, is an indicator of certain types of alopecia. Detecting alopecia is something best left to a trichologist, but watching out for the symptoms to take timely action is your hands. Scarring Alopecia is also a type of alopecia, one of the symptoms of which is itching and burning of the scalp. This alopecia refers to a type of baldness caused by the destruction of hair follicles.
    A burning or crawling sensation or excessive itching on the scalp or the body area, before hair loss is a key symptom for most kinds of alopecia. This is something that you may easily confuse with symptoms of other scalp disorders/ conditions which we have discussed above.
    Symptoms:

    • Loss of hair in an unusual pattern of small round patches, that is sudden.
    • Hair falls out easily just as you touch/feel your hair, or when combing.
    • Pillow-hair and shower-drain-hair observed often
    • Rapid spread of such bald patches.
    • Hair growth visibly affected in other areas as well, for instance on eyelashes or beard.
    • Excessive itching of the scalp just before hair loss, characterised by a burning or crawling sensation.
    • Chronic or extensive alopecia sometimes can be associated with the pitting of nails.
    • Longitudinal cracks observed along the length of the hair shaft and the cuticle are found to be missing. This cannot be observed with naked eyes.
  10. Scalp Folliculitis
    Scalp Folliculitis is an inflammatory condition of the scalp in which the hair follicles get inflamed following an infection. The inflamed scalp hair follicles present as small pustules that appear like acne or pimple with a white head and hence the common reference – scalp acne. The inflamed follicles get very itchy and painful. The condition doesn’t resolve on its own and needs clinical attention.
    Symptoms:

    • Clusters of red bumps that look like pimples near the hair roots
    • Pus-filled blisters around hair follicles
    • Sores with yellow/brown scabs
    • Itchiness and constant scratching on the scalp skin
    • Loss of hair in a severe form of Scalp Folliculitis
    • Formation of crusts on the red pustules
    • Burning or stinging sensation, pain or tenderness

We have only listed out the most possible causes as to why you may be having an itchy or irritated scalp. Only a clear clinical diagnosis can help you in correctly identifying the cause and appropriately treating it. Scalp care is unfortunately not given as much importance as hair care. They are two sides to the coin! Both are equally important!

Can an itchy scalp be prevented? Yes. If there are no serious underlying concerns causing the irritation. Here are some basic pointers on how you can maintain your hair & scalp’s health at large.

  • Balanced diet to ensure your hair and scalp get all the right nutrients.
  • Adequate hydration to ensure your hair and body get the water it needs.
  • Regular oiling to condition and nourish your hair. Not to mention how this process helps curtail the damage caused by daily concerns of pollution and stress.
  • Using the right shampoo to wash your hair in a set routine.
  • Conditioning your hair after every hair wash, with the right product.
  • Deep conditioning periodically to ensure the moisture needed by the hair is sealed within. This will help fight the hair damage caused by styling etc.
  • Measured use of styling equipment. Avoid applying heat directly onto the hair.
  • Avoid chemical treatments as these cause extensive damage to the hair and scalp.
  • Hair colouring with a suitable product, while ensuring a detox treatment is taken periodically to control hair damage.
  • Ensure that any product used on your hair and scalp is something that is suitable for your hair type – check with your Trichologist.
  • Periodic hair and scalp check with a trichologist to keep a tab on your hair’s health. Timely identification of symptoms and concerns can help tackle them right. Many conditions are progressive and the health deteriorates as you postpone a consultation. Hair fall can turn into irreversible hair loss if ignored.

Evaluating the degree & intensity of any problem can help decide what treatment would work best & how long it will take to control the same. Visit a reputed clinic and meet a Trichologist who can help you scientifically diagnose your itchy scalp and give you genuine advice.

We hope our blog was helpful in explaining the reasons why you may have an itchy scalp and what can be done about it. So, the next time you feel the itch, book an appointment with a certified & qualified trichologist without a second thought! Don’t forget, getting rid of the itch, begins with finding out why your scalp is itchy in the first place!!

Any question? We are just a call away!

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