Why Is My Head Itching So Bad? 10 Causes & How to Stop

Medically Reviewed on 3/11/2022

Itching Head
Head itching can be caused by infections, autoimmune disease, allergic reactions. Learn about 10 causes of head itching

When your head itches continuously, there may be many contributory factors. Head itching can be irritating and troublesome. Finding the cause and treating it should be a priority. Head itching can be caused by infections, autoimmune disease, allergic reactions. Learn about 10 causes of head itching.

10 causes of head itching

  1. Dandruff: Dandruff mainly occurs as a result of the body’s response to yeast overgrowth, resulting in itching and a dry, flaky scalp. It primarily affects the hairy areas of the body. 
    • For mild dandruff, use shampoos containing zinc and selenium. 
    • The physician may prescribe topical cortisone and antifungal shampoo in severe dandruff cases.
  2. Tinea capitis: Commonly known as ringworm, Tinea capitis is a fungal infection that affects the scalp. Tinea capitis goes deep into the hair follicle resulting in round patches of hair loss
    • Because these infections extend deep into hair follicles, physicians may prescribe oral antifungal medications. 
    • However, if the infection is superficial, then over-the-counter antifungals are the solution.
  3. Head lice: Head lice can invade anyone’s scalp, not just school children. Poor hygiene does not necessarily result in an infestation of head lice, as it may infest clean hair too. A louse spends most of its life cycle glued to a hair strand. 
    • Shampoos containing permethrin or pyrethrin can treat head lice
    • Follow the instructions on the label to get the desired results.
  4. Scabies: Mites cause scabies, resulting in intense itching. If it affects the scalp, then the itching may keep you awake all night. 
    • Patients should consult a board-certified dermatologist. The dermatologist prescribes topical creams containing permethrin or crotamiton and sulfur ointments for treating scabies.
  5. Psoriasis: Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that causes itchy scalp. Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune disorder causing reddish and scaly patches in the skin or scalp. The exact causative factors of this disease are unknown, but psoriasis is not contagious. A family history of psoriasis is a risk factor. Physicians recommend medicated shampoos containing salicylic acid or coal tar to treat scalp psoriasis. If psoriasis doesn’t respond, topical cortisone is the treatment.
  6. Allergic reactions: Allergic reactions to hair care products and hair dyes can cause itchy scalp. Para-phenylenediamine is an ingredient found in hair dye, which causes an allergic reaction. Discontinuing the Para-phenylenediamine product is the best solution to treat itchy scalp.
  7. Hives: Hives are small red itchy bumps that form in the skin as well as the scalp. Hives usually resolve on their own; however, hives lasting for more than six weeks are called chronic. Only chronic hives need treatment, which includes antihistamines.
  8. Atopic dermatitis: Atopic dermatitis involves redness and scaling of the scalp, along with a burning sensation and itching.
  9. Nerve problems: If you experience persistent itching without any signs of a rash or other skin disorders, then this could be a sign of a nerve problem. The nerve damage due to underlying medical conditions, such as diabetes or shingles, can lead to a condition known as neuropathy.
  10. Skin cancer: Basal cell carcinomas (BCC) symptoms include raised reddish patches of skin that may crust or itch, but are usually not painful.

What are common causes of itchy skin?

Itchy skin is not only irritating, but it also may cause infection. Sometimes, an underlying medical condition may also cause itchy skin. The most common causes of itchy skin include:

Dry skin

  • It is one of the common causes of itching.
  • In addition to flaking and a feeling of tightness, skin that lacks moisture can lead to itchy sensations.

Runner’s itch

  • If you’ve ever experienced itchy legs during or after a jog, runner’s itch may be to blame. Experienced most often on the thighs and calves, this temporary itching is caused by the increase in body temperature and release of histamine during exercise.

Folliculitis

  • Showering immediately after exercise may lead to folliculitis
  • This irritation of the hair follicles is often associated with infection that can lead to red bumps and itchy skin.

Eczema

  • The redness, scaly skin and severe itching associated with eczema commonly occur on several areas of the body, including on the face, behind the knees and inside the elbows.

Psoriasis

  • If you have itching on your knees accompanied by redness and thick patches of scaly skin, psoriasis may be the culprit. This skin condition often affects the elbows and may cause scaly patches of skin (and itching) on the eyebrows, between the nose and upper lip, the upper forehead and along the hairline as well. 

Diabetes

  • Those with diabetes frequently experience itchy lower legs due to dry skin and poor circulation.

Keratosis pilaris (KP)

  • A harmless skin condition commonly seen on the backs of the arms, KP is caused by the build-up of a skin protein called keratin that blocks the opening of the hair follicle and it may be associated with itchy arms.

Fungal infections

  • This is the most common cause of itching, especially in humid and moist climates.

QUESTION

Ringworm is caused by a fungus. See Answer

How do I stop uncontrollable itching?

Itching is one of the most distressing symptoms you may experience. Stop uncontrollable itching by using gentle cleansers, taking shorter, cooler showers, moisturizing after you shower with chilled, ,medicated cream and using a humidifier.
Itching is one of the most distressing symptoms you may experience. Stop uncontrollable itching by using gentle cleansers, taking shorter, cooler showers, moisturizing after you shower with chilled, ,medicated cream and using a humidifier.

Itching is one of the most distressing symptoms you may experience. The discomfort of itch may, in many cases, surpass even the sensation of pain. There are many reasons why you have an itch: dry skin, allergies, bug bite, fungal infections, and so forth. Some causes of itch such as lichen planus or eczema may require intervention by a dermatologist.

Here are a few ways to control that itch.

Use gentle, skin microbiome-supporting cleansers:

  • Look for cleansers that feature hydrating, balancing, barrier-supporting ingredients. 
  • Try hand soaps that are enriched with soothing, hydrating ingredients such as milk, aloe, honey and oatmeal.
  • Try any ingredients that restore the skin barrier and help bring the pH back to the normal range. We need to respect the inherent pH of our skin to keep it healthy. Such ingredients include urea, panthenol, ceramides, glycerin, niacin and hyaluronic acid among others.

Take cooler or shorter showers:

  • Stick to cold or lukewarm showers. This will not only help avoid stripping a layer of crucial lipids called ceramides, but also help retain skin moisture. 
  • If you are partial to a warmer shower (they can help melt away stress), just make sure you don’t stay underneath the stream for too long so you don’t dry out your skin.

Moisturize right after:

  • After covering the body with moisture (water), sealing it all in is key. It’s essential to moisturize as often as possible to restore those lipids and encourage the re-growth of healthy bacteria.
  • Research shows that if you wait too long to moisturize after shower, you miss that narrow window of opportunity to really trap and seal those nourishing ingredients into the skin before all the water evaporates off the surface, further compromising your skin.
  • Leave your skin a bit damp so the occlusives can really lock in hydration. Rather, lightly pat dry with a towel. 

Chill your lotions and creams:

  • Try tossing your moisturizers in the fridge for a few minutes before applying. It’s a classic trick. A cooler temperature constricts your blood vessels (called vasoconstriction).
  • This tricks the nerves that sense itch and leads to a cooling, soothing effect.
  • You can even use a cold compress or ice cubes if you choose. The cool temperature breaks the incessant itch–scratch–itch cycle so you won’t tug or further irritate the skin.

Medicated creams or lotions.

  • Try applying creams or lotions that have hydrocortisone or pramoxine hydrochloride. 
  • These ingredients provide temporary itch relief that helps prevent the scratching that can break the skin and lead to infection.
  • Also, try applying cooling agents such as menthol or calamine.

Other recommendations.

  • Apart from the above recommendations, people with itchy skin may need to use a suitable humidifier at home.
  • They may also need to wear soft fabrics such as cotton and silk and drink plenty of water.

If the post shower itchiness does not subside with common recommendations, check for triggers. It could be a number of things in your environment including cosmetic products, laundry detergents, soaps and lotions. Keep a notebook handy and write down when the itchiness happens and remember what products you used or what other environmental factors might have caused the reaction.

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Medically Reviewed on 3/11/2022
References
https://health.clevelandclinic.org/itchy-scalp-5-common-problems-and-fixes/

https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/itchy-skin/itch-relief/relieve-scalp-itch

https://www.medicinenet.com/skin_cancer_overview/article.htm

https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/itchy-skin/itch-relief/relieve-itchy-skin

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/itchy-skin/