Most scalp conditions lead to hair loss or some type of skin rash. Many are hereditary. Malnutrition or infection can also cause scalp conditions. The treatment and your outlook depend on the condition that’s causing the scalp problems.
There are many different types of scalp conditions, resulting from a variety of causes. Here is a list of 15 possible scalp conditions.
Warning: Graphic images ahead.
- You may notice a large amount of hair in the drain after you wash your hair.
- You may find clumps of hair in your brush.
- Hair that falls out easily with gentle pulling may be a sign of hair loss.
- Thinning patches of hair may also indicate hair loss.
Male pattern baldness
- Hair loss at the temples of the head is a possible sign of male pattern baldness.
- Some with male pattern baldness develop a bald spot or hairline that recedes to form an “M” shape.
Seborrheic eczema (cradle cap)
Image by: Starfoxy/commonswiki
- This common and self-limiting skin condition is seen in infants and young children between the ages of 3 weeks to 12 months.
- It's painless and non-itchy.
- Yellowish, greasy scales appear on the scalp and forehead that flake off.
- It usually doesn't require medical treatment and will go away on its own in 6 months.
This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.
- Malnutrition is deficiency of one or many dietary vitamins or nutrients due to low intake or poor absorption in the intestines.
- It may be caused by disease, medications, or poor diet.
- The symptoms of a nutritional deficiency depend on which nutrient the body lacks.
- Common symptoms include weight loss, fatigue, weakness, pale skin, hair loss, unusual food cravings, trouble breathing, heart palpitations, fainting, menstrual issues, and depression.
- Psoriasis typically results in scaly, silvery, sharply defined skin patches.
- It's commonly located on the scalp, elbows, knees, and lower back.
- It may be itchy or asymptomatic.
- Noticable symptoms usually don’t start until later in the disease process.
- Symptoms include brittle hair and nails, hair loss, and dry skin.
- Fatigue, weight gain, increased sensitivity to cold, constipation, and depression are other symptoms.
Image by: Myself (Own work) [GFDL (gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
- This is a fungal infection that affects your scalp and hair shafts.
- Itchy, flaky patches appear on the scalp.
- Brittle hair, hair loss, scalp pain, low fever, swollen lymph nodes are other possible symptoms.
- Hashimito’s disease is caused by an inappropriate immune response to the thyroid gland.
- Low thyroid hormone causes symptoms of decreased metabolism.
- Symptoms include thinning hair, sluggishness, fatigue, and hoarseness.
- Other symptoms include constipation, high cholesterol, depression, and lower body muscle weakness.
Image by: Abbassyma at English Wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
- Alopecia areata is a skin condition that causes the immune system to mistakenly attack hair follicles, resulting in hair loss.
- Hair loss occurs randomly all over the scalp or other parts of the body in small, smooth, quarter-sized patches that may combine into larger areas.
- Hair loss is often not permanent, but hair may grow back slowly or fall out again after regrowth.
- A louse is about the size of a sesame seed, and both lice and their eggs (nits) may be visible in the hair.
- Extreme scalp itchiness can be caused by an allergic reaction to louse bites.
- Sores may appear on your scalp from scratching.
- You may feel like something is crawling on your scalp.
Image by: Goulet O et al. [CC BY 2.0 (creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
- Bamboo hair is a defect in the structure of hair that results in brittle or fragile hair strands that break easily.
- It leads to sparse hair growth, and eyelash or eyebrow loss.
- Hair strands have a dry, knotty appearance.
- It's a common symptom of Netherton’s syndrome.
- This uncommon disorder may affect the skin, oral cavity, scalp, nails, genitals, or esophagus.
- Lesions develop and spread over the course of several weeks or a few months.
- Itchy, purplish-colored lesions or bumps with flat tops appear that may be covered by thin, white lines.
- Lacy-white lesions in the mouth occur that may be painful or cause a burning sensation.
- Blisters that burst and become scabby are another possible symptom.
- This autoimmune disease is characterized by changes in the texture and appearance of the skin due to increased collagen production.
- Skin thickening and shiny areas develop around the mouth, nose, fingers, and other bony areas.
- Symptoms include swelling fingers; small, dilated blood vessels under the skin’s surface; calcium deposits under the skin; and difficulty swallowing.
- Spasms of the blood vessels in the fingers and toes cause these digits to turn white or blue in the cold.
Image by: Rashy100 at English Wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
- This disease occurs when the immune cells within a bone marrow graft don't match the recipient's cells, causing the donor cells to attack the recipient's cells
- The most commonly involved organs are the skin, gastrointestinal tract, and liver.
- It can occur within 100 days after transplantation (acute GVHD) or over a longer period of time (chronic GVHD).
- Sunburn-like itchy, painful rash appears that can cover up to 50 percent of the body.
- Nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramping, diarrhea, bloody stools, and dark urine are other possible symptoms.
Image by: Layne Harris/Wikimedia
- This parasitic disease is caused by the Leishmania parasite, which infects sand flies.
- The sand flies that carry the parasite typically reside in tropical and subtropical environments in Asia, East Africa, and South America.
- Leishmaniasis comes in three forms: cutaneous, visceral, and mucocutaneous.
- It causes multiple crusting skin lesions.
Conditions that lead to hair loss
One of the most common types of scalp condition involves hair loss or damage. This can range from a complete loss of hair to easy breakages or small patches of hair loss:
- Male pattern baldness is common in men and occurs because of genetics and male sex hormones.
- Alopecia areata is a chronic autoimmune disorder that results in a patchy balding pattern.
- Nutritional deficiencies can cause hair loss, including protein deficiency or iron deficiency anemia.
- Three thyroid conditions can lead to hair loss:
- Hypopituitarism, or an underactive pituitary gland, can cause hair loss.
- Lichen planus is a skin condition that can cause discoloration of the scalp, as well as hair loss.
- Celiac disease is an allergy to gluten that may result in hair loss.
- Systemic lupus erythematosus is an autoimmune disorder with hair loss as one of its symptoms.
- Trichorrhexis nodosa occurs when hair shafts break easily. It's normally due to genetics, but it can also be the result of certain disorders.
- Some women notice hair loss after giving birth, which is due to the drop in hormones like estrogen. (Hair growth returns within a few months.)
- Stress can lead to hair loss.
- Certain medications, such as birth control pills, blood thinners, and some of the ones that treat arthritis, depression, gout, heart conditions, and high blood pressure, can lead to hair loss.
- Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia can lead to hair loss.
- Some people experience temporary hair loss after an extreme weight loss of 15 pounds or more.
In addition, certain chemicals and tools people use for styling hair can lead to hair loss and damage to your scalp.
Skin conditions of the scalp
Other conditions affect the scalp because they’re skin conditions or they cause skin rashes:
- Seborrheic eczema, or dermatitis, is a common inflammatory skin condition that causes flaky, scaly patches on the skin, especially the scalp. When those flakes fall off, it’s called dandruff.
- Cradle cap is seborrheic eczema in infants.
- Psoriasis is a common inflammatory skin condition. In many cases, it affects the scalp, which develops red, scaly, dry patches.
- Ringworm, or tinea capitis, is a fungal skin infection that produces ring-like patches. It’s common in children.
- Scleroderma is a rare disease of the skin and connective tissue. It causes skin to develop patches that are tight and hard.
- Ito syndrome, or incontinentia pigmenti achromians, is a rare birth defect that causes light patches of skin to develop on the body.
- Graft-versus-host disease is a potential complication after having a bone marrow or stem cell transplant. A skin rash may form when the host rejects the transplanted tissue.
- Leishmaniasis is a tropical parasite that sand flies spread. It can cause skin lesions.
Other health problems that affect the scalp
Other health problems that affect the scalp include the following:
- Lice are small insects that infest the hair and scalp.
- Head trauma can refer to any accident that causes skull fractures or cuts on the scalp.
- Temporal arteritis occurs when arteries that supply the head with blood are inflamed or damaged. It results in a sensitive scalp.
The exact cause of certain scalp conditions is often unknown, or multiple causes are involved, possibly due to genetics. These include:
Others scalp conditions, like ringworm, lice, and leishmaniasis, are known to be caused by infections.
The symptoms of scalp conditions depend on the exact condition, but they include:
You may experience other symptoms that are characteristic of particular conditions and not necessarily related to the scalp.
If you suspect you have a condition that’s affecting your scalp, your doctor will first want to examine your head, hair, and scalp. Some conditions may be easy to diagnose after a visual examination, such as:
For other conditions, your doctor or a specialist may need to run other tests. You may need to have a sample of blood drawn, for instance, to test for hormone levels and to determine if a thyroid or pituitary problem is to blame, or to detect a nutritional deficiency.
Treatment for scalp conditions varies depending on the diagnosis.
Prescription medications are available to help treat hair loss. Surgical implants of hair transplants are also possible. In some cases, the underlying cause of hair loss can be treated.
Supplements or dietary changes can correct nutritional deficiencies.
Medications can treat autoimmune disorders and hormone disorders.
You can treat celiac disease by avoiding gluten in your diet.
Medicated ointments and washes that kill fungi or certain insects can cure certain infections, such as ringworm and lice.
You can treat seborrheic eczema and cradle cap with medicated shampoos.
Ito syndrome and scleroderma aren’t curable, but you can reduce the symptoms with medications.
The outlook for many people with scalp conditions is good. Medications that slow or regrow hair are somewhat successful, and wigs are always an option if they don’t work. You can get treatment for and eliminate the scalp conditions that occur due to infections. Although some other scalp conditions aren’t curable, treatment can successfully control symptoms.