Don’t be left scratching your head

A simple guide to recognising and treating some common scalp conditions

The scalp is an area of our bodies that unless something is wrong with it, we don’t pay much attention to it but there are many common conditions of the scalp that are often irritating and unpleasant but easily treatable.

Dandruff: Every day we shed around 14 million particles of skin and the scalp is no exception. Dandruff is characterised by the build-up of dead skin cells on the scalp which results in itchiness and unsightly flakes of dead skin on the scalp.

It can have many causes like not shampooing enough, shampooing too much, eczema and psoriasis but is most commonly caused by dry skin. Treatments for dandruff are easy and accessible – the most common form of treatment is anti-dandruff shampoo that can be purchased at most supermarkets and pharmacies.

Tinea Capitas: Also known as ringworm of the scalp, tinea capitas is a fungal infection of the scalp that is highly contagious and most prevalent in toddlers and young children. Symptoms include itchy, scaly bald patches on the head. It is treated with antifungal medication and shampoos that lessen the spread of infection.

Head Lice: Head lice are small insects that live on the scalp and lay eggs (nits) in the hair. Although they do not carry or transmit disease, they cause an itchy scalp and often embarrassment in those affected.  They do not have wings and cannot jump so they are transmitted through head-to-head contact. They are most common in young children and their families.

Treatments include using conditioner and a comb to find and removing the lice – this should be done every two days until lice are no longer visible. Another treatment involves using insecticide in the form of special shampoos to kill the lice. Insecticide will not kill 100 percent of the lice so a comb should be run through the hair prior to removing the insecticide to get rid of any remaining live lice or nits.

Cradle Cap: A condition that affects newborns, cradle cap is a form of dermatitis that causes a yellow, greasy, scaly and patchy skin rash on the scalp. The condition is not itchy or painful and does not bother the baby. It is not caused by poor hygiene or bad parenting and doctors do not know the exact cause.

For mild cradle cap treatment is easy and involves using a mild anti-dandruff shampoo and loosening the crusts by massaging the scalp with mineral oil, washing the hair wish shampoo and gently lifting off the crusts with a soft brush.

Sometimes the skin under the crusts can become infected and in this case it is important to seek medical attention so appropriate measures can be taken to avoid any complications. The condition will often clear up in time, but if it doesn’t, seek medical advice.

Psoriasis: Psoriasis is a disorder that can affect the skin almost anywhere on the body but is often found on the scalp. The condition causes the body to make too many new skin cells leaving thick, crusted scales on the scalp resulting in itchiness, tenderness, soreness and general discomfort.

Although the condition is incurable, it can be managed with steroid creams or ointments, special shampoos and in some cases ultraviolet light therapy can be helpful.

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