Scalp pruritus, which is commonly known as scalp itching, is a prevalent dermatological issue that affects people of all ages and genders. It is characterized by an uncomfortable sensation of itchiness, irritation, or tickling on the scalp. The severity of the itching can vary from mild to severe and may occur occasionally or chronically.
There are numerous factors that can lead to scalp pruritus. Some of the most common causes include using a shampoo or hair styling product that contains harsh chemicals, such as sodium lauryl sulfate, which can strip the scalp of its natural oils and cause dryness and irritation. Other possible causes of an itchy scalp include fungal infections like ringworm, eczema, psoriasis, seborrheic dermatitis, allergies, and insect bites.
While an itchy scalp may cause discomfort and inconvenience, it does not typically lead to hair loss. However, prolonged and severe itching can damage hair follicles, which are the tiny openings on the scalp that hair grows from. Damaged hair follicles can cause hair shedding and bald spots, particularly in people who are already prone to hair loss or have a family history of baldness. In some cases, hair follicles can be permanently damaged, resulting in irreversible hair loss.
To manage scalp itching, there are several self-care measures that can be taken, such as using gentle hair care products, avoiding hot styling tools, and wearing loose-fitting hats or headscarves. Over-the-counter medicated shampoos containing ingredients like coal tar, salicylic acid, or ketoconazole may also help alleviate scalp itching caused by fungal infections or psoriasis. For more severe or persistent cases, a dermatologist may prescribe topical or oral medications to treat the underlying condition and relieve the symptoms of scalp pruritus.
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Causes Of An Itchy Scalp And Hair Loss
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, it is common for people to experience an itchy scalp occasionally and lose between 50 to 100 strands of hair daily. Nevertheless, when scalp itchiness is excessive or persistent, and symptoms such as crusty scalp areas or increased hair loss occur, it may warrant concern. In this regard, several factors may cause itchy scalp and hair loss, which are detailed below.
Dandruff is characterized by the shedding of dead skin cells from the scalp. The condition usually develops during adolescence when hormones increase oil production. While the exact cause of dandruff is unknown, some researchers believe it is caused by a yeast infection of the scalp and hair follicles. In severe cases, untreated dandruff can lead to hair loss as yeast weakens the hair root.
Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune disorder characterized by the formation of scaly patches on the skin. When it affects the scalp, it causes dry, silvery scales, inflammation, and hair loss resulting from excessive scratching or removing scales. About 50% of individuals with psoriasis develop scalp psoriasis.
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disorder that causes hair loss in patches. It occurs when the immune system attacks hair follicles, leading to hair loss. In addition to causing scalp itchiness and tingling, this condition can cause tufts of hair to fall out, resulting in circular patches of baldness. Alopecia areata is common in people with a family history of autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis.
Tinea capitis, also known as ringworm of the scalp, is a fungal infection that penetrates deep into the hair shaft, causing itchiness and hair loss. Depending on the type of fungi responsible for the infection, the hair may break off at the scalp’s surface or just above, leaving hair stubs. It is most commonly seen in young children and can be accompanied by a raised, dry, scaly rash, and black, bumpy dots on the scalp.
Allergic reactions to things like hair dyes can cause an inflamed, itchy scalp, and hair loss. A study published in ISRN Dermatology found that up to 1% of the subjects were allergic to paraphenylendiamine (PPD), a common ingredient found in hair dyes. PPD is capable of causing severe hair loss in sensitive people. Inflammation and itching can also occur on the scalp around bug bites and can look like a rash or allergy.
Folliculitis is an inflammation of the hair follicles caused by staph bacteria or fungi. It can occur on any part of the skin where hair grows, including the scalp. In addition to causing small, itchy bumps on the skin, folliculitis that affects the scalp can cause temporary hair loss.
Lichen planopilaris is an inflammatory scalp condition that occurs mostly in young adult women. It is thought to be due to a faulty immune system and can produce patches of hair loss along with scaling, redness, burning, bumps, and blisters on the scalp.
Medical Treatments For An Itchy Scalp With Hair Loss
Various treatments are available depending on the cause of scalp itchiness and hair loss, which your doctor may recommend. Steroids to decrease inflammation, antifungals to combat yeast, and immunotherapy medication to regulate the immune response are some of the most frequent therapies. Common treatments for hair loss include minoxidil (Rogaine), finasteride (Propecia), and hair transplantation.
Use Targeted Shampoos
If you’re experiencing dandruff, you can use shampoos containing selenium or zinc to combat yeast.
Try Essential Oils
There isn’t much scientific evidence available, but some animal studies have shown that essential oils like rosemary and peppermint can reduce hair loss and promote new hair growth. Essential oils must be diluted with a carrier oil before being applied to the scalp.
Enjoy a Scalp Massage
Scalp massage can increase hair thickness, possibly by increasing blood flow or stimulating hair cells, according to research published in Eplasty.
Treat Hair Gently
To avoid hair loss, avoid scratching your scalp too hard, wearing your hair tied tightly in a ponytail, and exposing your scalp and hair to high heat and styling products. Wash with a gentle shampoo and let it air dry until you figure out what’s causing your scalp itchiness and hair loss.