There are number of different types of scalp problems that can cause a host of symptoms, such as itching, redness, lesions like pimples, flaking of the skin and hair loss. Some of these scalp conditions may overlap in terms of the causes and appear similar to each other. Understanding the cause of these conditions and being able to differentiate between these problems is important to properly treat and manage the underlying skin disease.
Causes and Types
The causes of scalp problem varies from lifestyle factors to skin diseases. The latter may be associated with allergies, infections, infestations and autoimmune diseases. It is important to understand that the scalp is skin with a large number of hair follicles close together. It therefore has largely the same characteristics as skin elsewhere on the body. Since most people allow their scalp hair to grow to a length that does not occur on other parts of the body, this creates a unique environment which can increases the likelihood of certain skin-related problems arising as discussed below. Always consult with a dermatologist and/or trichologist for an exact diagnosis and proper treatment of scalp problems.
Not washing your often enough or properly can irritate the scalp and lead to symptoms like itching. The accumulation of skin oils, dead skin cells, sweat, dust and hair care products needs to be removed on a regular basis. Simply washing the hair also cleans the scalp and removes these potential irritants before they can accumulate to a degree that irritates the skin. Therefore poor hygiene should be considered as one of the first possible causes of scalp problems.
Dryness of the scalp may be another reason for scalp symptoms like itching and flaking of the skin. As with skin on any part of the body, the scalp has oil glands that secrete oil (sebum) to moisturize the skin and hair. Some people have less active oil (sebaceous) glands than other people. However, environmental factors can also play a role in drying of the skin, as is seen with cold, hot and wind climates. Furthermore hair care products like shampoos may further contribute to excessive drying of the scalp.
Dandruff refers to drying and flaking of the skin on the scalp. While it may be associated with overgrowth of fungi on the scalp surface, there are various other factors that can also lead to dandruff. This includes poor hygiene, dry scalp, the use of certain hair care products and even skin diseases such as psoriasis and eczema. When there is itching, the act of scratching the head further contributes to the irritation and the shedding of small flakes of skin.
Read more on dandruff.
Fungal infections of the scalp are also quite common. This is known as tinea capitis and is caused by a group of fungi known as dermatophytes. which have a predilection for human skin. The fungus consumes the outermost layers of the skin which are largely the protein known as keratin. It can also consume the hair strands thereby leading to loss of hair at the affected site (bald patches). The fungi that cause tinea capitis is commonly found in the environment. It can be easily transmitted from person to person or even from animals to humans.
Lice is another common problem that can affect the head. It is more commonly seen in children as it easily spread in places like daycare facilities. There are different types of lice that affect the head, body and pubic area. Head lice infestation is by far more common. The head lice known as Pediculus capitis resides on the scalp or close to it, lays eggs around the base of hair shafts and feeds off human blood. It can also be found on the eyebrows and somes even eyelashes.
Acne is a common skin condition that mainly affects the face. It can also extend to the shoulders, chest and back. Acne is an inflammatory skin condition that mostly arises on areas where there are large number of sebaceous (oil) glands. The scalp is also one such area and people with extensive facial acne may also experience scalp acne. It is due to blockage of the pores through which sebum passes out onto the skin surface and is further complicated by a bacterial infection leading to the typical pimples that is characteristic of acne.
Read more on acne.
Folliculitis is a condition when the hair follicle becomes infected. Most of the time this occurs due to a bacterial infection but viral or fungal infections may also cause it. Folliculitis is sometimes confused with scalp acne. The follicles become inflamed – red, swollen, tender and itchy. In severe cases it can lead to hair loss an permanent scarring of the scalp. Folliculities is more likely to arise when there is an injury to the scalp and hair follicles like with friction, shaving, chemical injury and skin conditions like dermatitis.
Psoriasis is an skin condition where there is an accumulation of skin cells which do not shed as normal. It leads to thick plaques which can become inflamed and infected. The exact cause of psoriasis is not unknown but it appears to be an immune-related condition. People with a family history of psoriasis are more likely to develop this condition but may be triggered by a host of factors. The skin is excessively dry and itches intensely. Depending on the severity of the condition, the scalp may also be affected and it can also lead to hair loss at the affected area.
Seborrheic dermatitis is a common skin condition that can affect all age groups. It may occur in newborns, children, teens and adults. It tends to affect the skin where there is a large amount of oil glands. Although it may be due to an immune response to naturally-occurring fungi on the skin, seborrheic dermatitis is not an infection. The skin becomes excessively oily and this may form yellow crusts. It also leads to flaking of the skin and this is sometimes the cause of dandruff.