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  5. Is Itchy Scalp Making You Scratch All The Time?

You’re in the middle of an important meeting with colleagues or friends, but your focus is elsewhere - on that itchy and irritating scalp! You have a very strong urge to scratch your head. But, you’re controlling yourself to avoid the public embarrassment.

That moment can be extremely frustrating, right? And, this has happened to most of us very often, hasn’t it? Well, let’s start with this - you're not alone. Itchy scalp or scalp pruritus is a very common concern and fortunately, easy to treat as well.

It is important to get to the root of the problem to figure out how to relieve your itchy scalp. So let’s get started.

Why Is My Scalp So Itchy?

1. Dandruff

Dandruff [1] is the most common cause of an itchy scalp. It is called seborrheic dermatitis and in infants, it is called cradle cap.

When the sebaceous glands [2] (glands that produce sebum or oil) become inflamed, they cause dandruff. While the exact cause of dandruff is unknown, doctors believe that it is a result of yeast overgrowth, seasonal changes (common in winter) and hormonal fluctuations or stress.

Symptoms Of Dandruff

  • Itching
  • Flaking
  • White or yellow flakes
  • Reddened skin

2. Autoimmune Disease

Scalp psoriasis [3] is an autoimmune disorder [4] that makes skin cells grow way too quickly. What follows is a scaling and inflamed scalp.

Symptoms Of Scalp Psoriasis

  • Red, scaly and raised patches on the scalp
  • Scalp itching

Alopecia areata [5] is another scalp condition that is an autoimmune disorder. In this conditions, the immune system attacks your hair follicles. It results in spot baldness, meaning hair is lost from certain patches of the scalp.

Symptoms Of Alopecia

  • Hair loss
  • Mild itching
  • Tingling, tenderness or burning sensation in the affected area

3. Fungal Infections Like Ringworm

Ringworm [6] or tinea capitis is a fungal infection caused by dermatophytes. These fungi live on warm and sweaty scalp. It is highly contagious and commonly affects children.

Symptoms Of Ringworm

  • Red, itchy and raised skin patches
  • Development of blisters
  • Brittle hair

4. Lice

Head lice [7] are parasites that live on the human scalp to derive nutrition in the form of blood. They are tiny, wingless insects, which are transmitted via head-to head contact and are common in school-going children.

Symptoms Of Head Lice

  • Itching of scalp
  • Feeling that something is always crawling on the scalp
  • Redness or sores due to scratching

5. Contact Dermatitis

Contact dermatitis [8] is a skin condition that is caused when a foreign material irritates the skin and causes an allergic reaction. Allergic contact dermatitis is caused by an irritant in a new hair care product. Besides ingredients like sulfates, dyes, fragrances in hair care products, certain hair accessories may cause allergic contact dermatitis.

Photocontact dermatitis is not very common. It occurs when an active ingredient in a hair care product is exposed to sun and results in irritation.

Symptoms Of Contact Dermatitis

  • Itchiness that lasts for long periods
  • Dry, flaky and scaly skin
  • Skin that burns
  • Redness
  • Blisters, in some cases

6. Diabetes

Diabetes [9] can cause localized itching on the scalp due to a yeast infection, dry skin or poor blood circulation. Diabetes mellitus is a group of disorders that cause elevated blood sugar levels in the body. Glucose is an energy source for the brain, muscles and other tissues.

The carbohydrates in your food are broken down into glucose that triggers the pancreas to release a hormone called insulin. Insulin acts like a key allowing the sugar to enter the cells in your body.

When sufficient insulin is not produced, symptoms of diabetes manifest. Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to heart disease, stroke, nerve damage, eye disease and kidney malfunction.

Symptoms Of Diabetes

  • Itching accompanied by tingling sensations
  • Dryness & need to scratch in the night
  • Bumps & patches

7. Stress

Stress can cause dandruff and an itchy scalp [10]. Anxiety can also lead to an itchy scalp, according to dermatologists. The top of your head might be a reflection of what's going inside your head.

Stress can make your body release pro-inflammatory chemicals that mess your scalp's barrier function. When the barrier function is compromised, it is easy for moisture to escape. When this happens, your regular and mild hair care products can also aggravate the condition further.

Symptoms Of Stress

  • Itchiness
  • Dry scalp

Word Of Caution:

Despite the strong urge to scratch, avoid this at all times. Excessive scratching can lead to an itch-scratch cycle, further worsening your condition. Try one of the treatments discussed below.

How To Get Rid Of Itchiness On Scalp?

1. Over-The-Counter Shampoos

  • Over-the-counter shampoos containing selenium [11] or zinc pyrithione can help control dandruff causing yeast. If you have severe dandruff, you may need prescription strength antifungal shampoos, medicated foams, creams or ointments.
  • Shampoos containing coal tar or salicylic acid are your best bet when it comes to scalp psoriasis.
  • For head lice, shampoos that contain insecticides pyrethrin [12] or permethrin help control the lice.

2. Home Remedies

A. Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar is antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal. It helps in reducing scalp itching. Mix apple cider vinegar in warm water and rinse your hair with this diluted solution after washing your hair.

B. Organic Coconut Oil

Organic coconut oil is extracted naturally from mature coconuts. It has an antimicrobial agent called lauric acid. It relieves an itchy scalp.

C. Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil has anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal properties. Mix a few drops of tea tree oil in olive oil for scalp application, or with your mild shampoo. Tea tree oil can help with itching associated with dandruff and head lice.

Word Of Caution:

Keep tea tree oil away from children. It should not be ingested as it is poisonous when taken orally.

D. Peppermint Oil

Peppermint oil is extremely effective against dandruff and soothes an itchy scalp. Dilute peppermint oil with a carrier oil like olive oil and apply it on your scalp. You could also use peppermint tea to rinse your scalp and hair after shampooing.

E. Meditation

Do not underestimate the power of meditation. It can keep stress at bay and manage scalp itchiness to a great extent.

When To Worry About Scalp Itching?

Scalp itching is not a serious matter, unless there is an underlying health condition. You need to worry about scalp itching when

  • Over-the-counter shampoos and home remedies do not show any results.
  • Itching keeps you up at night and interrupts your routine.
  • Itchy spots are extremely sore to touch.

See your dermatologist if you have an itchy scalp that refuses to go, no matter how many shampoos you've tried.

How Can I Prevent An Itchy Scalp?

1. Avoid Spicy Food

Spicy foods excite receptors in the scalp that respond to heat. There is a correlation between spicy food and an itchy scalp. It is best to avoid spicy foods and pungent foods like garlic and onion.

2. Eat Healthy

Eat scalp friendly foods like salmon, peanut butter, flaxseeds, avocado, walnuts, eggs and tuna fish. A balanced diet with healthy fats is key to an itch-free scalp.

3. Wash your scalp

You could use a clarifying shampoo to get rid of the build up of dirt, sebum, sweat and dead skin cells. Consider gentle exfoliating shampoos if your scalp is not too sensitive.

Wrapping Up

While scalp itch can be treated effectively at home, it is always a good idea to see your dermatologist. Stay away from essential oils or active ingredients in shampoos if you are allergic to them. Stick to a good hair care routine and step up your game.

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