Skin itchiness is an extremely common skin condition. In fact, it's so common that it's almost an inevitable part of being human. Ask around and you'll be hard-pressed to find someone who's never had an itch before!
But even though it's normal to have an occasional itch, it's not normal to be itchy all the time. Have you been itching and scratching practically nonstop? Your itching could be the result of a much larger problem.
Persistent scalp itchiness can point to allergy problems or even a more serious skin condition. Here are five reasons your scalp itches and what to do about it to help you find the problem and stop it in its tracks.
When Should I Worry?
It's normal to feel itchy every once in a while. We've all been there. The most common causes of itchiness include dry skin, insect bites, sunburns, healing wounds, and skin regrowth—all things that are usually harmless and temporary.
Do you have a persistent itch that doesn't go away even when you use specialized shampoos and conditioners? Do you notice lice, nits, or unusually dry or flaky patches of skin on your scalp? If so, set up an appointment with your dermatologist immediately!
What's With the Itch?
What's causing that itch? It could be the result of a wide variety of factors, from a chronic skin condition to preventable allergies. Here's some information on five common causes of an itchy scalp to help you narrow down your options and determine the culprit behind your discomfort.
Dandruff is a condition in which the skin on your scalp becomes red, scaly, and flaky. A small amount of flaking isn't usually a cause for concern (flakes can result from stress, cold weather, and even improper shampooing), but if you notice large numbers of flakes that don't seem to go away, you may have chronic dandruff.
Common causes of chronic dandruff include a fungal infection (Malassezia) or skin conditions such as seborrheic dermatitis, psoriasis, and eczema. Usually, the treatment for dandruff involves using an over-the-counter anti-dandruff shampoo.
Psoriasis is an immune-mediated disease that causes skin cells to grow ten times faster than normal, which results in bumpy, itchy, and scaly skin. The exact cause is unknown, but for some reason, the immune system becomes inflamed and grows skin cells at an accelerated rate.
Common treatments for psoriasis include steroid or retinoid creams and ointments (prescribed by your doctor) and moisturizers.
Head lice are bugs that live on the human scalp and feed on blood. Contrary to popular belief, they don’t result from unclean living conditions or poor personal hygiene. Head lice can't live more than a few hours without a human host, so don't worry! You won't get them just because you forgot to take the trash out yesterday or were too tired to shower.
You can get head lice by interacting with someone who also has lice or by using the same clothing, furniture, or objects as them. This is why you should never share hairbrushes. You can treat head lice through medicated shampoos or combing through the hair and removing them by hand.
This condition has a misleading name. Ringworm infections, unlike tapeworms, hookworms, pinworms, and other infections with “worm” in the name, don’t result from worms. The culprit is a fungus that spreads via physical contact with infected individuals or animals. A ringworm infection usually results in a round, scaly, bumpy, and itchy area on the skin.
Usually, you can treat ringworm infections of the skin with an anti-fungal topical treatment. But ringworm infections on the scalp are typically deep within the hair follicles. Because they don't respond well to topical treatment, your doctor may prescribe oral medication instead.
Another potential cause of an itchy scalp is an allergic reaction to the ingredients in the hair care products you use. You can prevent allergic reactions by avoiding products that contain these allergens.
Your doctor can perform a specialized allergy test to help narrow down the chemical that's irritating your system. Fragrances, cocamidopropyl betaine, harsh detergents, parabens, and benzophenones are common allergens found in hair care products. If you're having a hard time pinpointing the source of your allergens, consider trying products with “toxic-free ingredient” formulas and see if that helps.
What Can I Do About an Itchy Scalp?
You know some common reasons your scalp itches. Now, what should you do about it? Some skin conditions that cause an itchy scalp are chronic, which means that they last for a year or more and can seriously impact your quality of life.
But just because a condition is chronic doesn't mean it's untreatable. With the help of a trusted doctor or dermatologist and reliable hair care products, you can reduce scalp itchiness and return to your normal life. If you have an itchy scalp that just won't go away, here are three things you should do to pinpoint the cause of your symptoms and combat them.
Visit A Doctor
The first thing you should do if you have a persistently itchy scalp is schedule an appointment with your primary care physician or dermatologist. Let them know that your itchy scalp is bothering you, and don't forget to tell them about any other symptoms you're experiencing. They'll perform a noninvasive examination on your scalp and may run some tests to determine the source of your discomfort.
Discuss a Treatment Plan
Once they figure out the source of your itch, your doctor will formulate a treatment plan. Sometimes, this involves taking oral medication. Your doctor is also likely to recommend certain skin or hair care products, especially in the case of conditions like dandruff and head lice.
Ensure you follow your doctor's advice. Don't feel like it's working for you? Let them know. Some treatments work great for some people but not for others. You might need to try several forms of treatment before you find one that works for you.
Use at-Home Remedies
You should never use at-home remedies as your main treatment method, but you can use them in conjunction with your doctor-prescribed treatment plan to try and relieve irritation and itchiness.
Common at-home remedies for itchy scalps include applying oils (coconut, jojoba, tea tree) to the scalp or using herbal, zinc pyrithione, or ketoconazole shampoos and conditioners and other hair care products with antifungal and anti-inflammatory ingredients.
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