Here are 11 potential reasons your scalp is itchy and what you can do about it.
10 causes of itchy scalp
- Dandruff: Dandruff or seborrheic dermatitis mainly occurs in response to yeast overgrowth, resulting in itching and dry, flaky scalp. For mild dandruff, use shampoos containing zinc and selenium. If your dandruff is more severe, your doctor may prescribe topical cortisone and antifungal shampoo.
- Ringworm: Commonly known as ringworm, tinea capitis is a fungal infection that affects the scalp and can result in patches of hair loss. If the infection is superficial, over-the-counter antifungal medications may help. Because these infections penetrate deep into hair follicles, oral antifungal medications may be prescribed. Examples of medications include:
- Lice: Lice isn’t necessarily caused just by poor hygiene. You can get it from coming into contact with someone who has lice. Shampoos that contain permethrin or pyrethrin can treat head lice.
- Scabies: Scabies is caused by mites that burrow into your scalp, resulting in intense itching that can keep you up at night. Scabies require treatment from a dermatologist, who can prescribe topical creams containing permethrin or crotamiton and sulfur ointments.
- Psoriasis: Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that causes reddish and scaly patches on the skin or scalp. While the exact cause of this disease is unknown, family history of psoriasis is a risk factor. Physicians recommend medicated shampoos that contain salicylic acid or coal tar to treat scalp psoriasis. Topical cortisone may be prescribed if such shampoos are ineffective.
- Allergic reactions: Allergic reactions to hair care products and hair dyes can cause your scalp to become itchy and inflamed. If you develop hives after using a hair care product, discontinue use. Chronic hives may need additional treatment such as antihistamines. Similarly, para-phenylenediamine is an ingredient found in hair dye that can cause an allergic reaction. You should discontinue use if it is causing your itchy scalp.
- Atopic dermatitis: Atopic dermatitis can cause scalp redness, burning, and itching. Treatment may include topical steroids combined with salicylic acid, oral antibiotics, and medicated shampoos.
- Nerve problems: If you experience persistent itching without any signs of rash or other skin disorders, then this could be a sign of a nerve problem. Nerve damage (neuropathy) can occur due to underlying medical conditions such as diabetes or shingles.
- Migraine: Migraines can lead to cutaneous allodynia, which is a condition in which the scalp feels prickly during a migraine episode. Rizatriptan has shown positive results in treating cutaneous allodynia.
- Skin cancer: Symptoms of basal cell carcinomas (BCC) include raised reddish patches of skin that may crust or itch but are usually not painful. BCC or other types of skin cancer can potentially irritate fine nerve endings in the skin, causing an itching sensation. Warning signs may include:
- New skin growth or lesion
- Change in the appearance of a mole
- Sore that continually crusts over but doesn’t heal
- Rough or scaly skin patch
- Pink, pearly bump that bleeds easily
IMAGESBrowse our medical image collection of allergic skin disorders such as psoriasis and dermatitis and more caused by allergies See Images
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malathionMalathion is a synthetic phosphorous compound (organophosphate) approved for topical use to kill head lice and also used off-label for pubic lice infestation that is resistant to other treatments. Do not use malathion on newborns or infants younger than 2 years old. Common side effects of malathion include skin and scalp irritation, stinging of skin, chemical burns (including second-degree burns), contact allergic sensitization, inflammation of the outer eye membrane (conjunctivitis) from accidental contact with the eyes.
permethrinPermethrin is a topical medication used to treat scabies and head lice infestations, available over the counter and by prescription. Do not apply permethrin to infants younger than 2 months old. Common side effects of permethrin include local discomfort (scalp), rash on the scalp, itching (pruritus), localized burning or numbness, localized swelling (edema), tingling of the skin, stinging of the skin, and redness of the skin (erythema). Consult your doctor if pregnant or breastfeeding.
Skin RashThe word "rash" means an outbreak of red bumps on the body. The way people use this term, "a rash" can refer to many different skin conditions. The most common of these are scaly patches of skin and red, itchy bumps or patches all over the place.
Ringworm PictureThis superficial skin infection, also known as tinea, is caused by fungi called dermatophytes. See a picture of Ringworm and learn more about the health topic.
Scalp PsoriasisScalp psoriasis causes red, raised, scaly patches that may extend from the scalp to the forehead and the back of the neck and ears. Symptoms and signs include itching, hair loss, flaking, silvery scales, and red plaques. Treatment includes topical medicated shampoos, creams, gels, oils, ointments, and soaps, medications, and light therapy.
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