If you tell someone you are scratching your head, with a bit of luck they will assume you are engrossed in a serious bit of cogitation. However, it is probably more likely that you are actually suffering from an itchy scalp. There are lots of reasons for our scalps to become irritated but here are a few common causes and what you can do about it.
1) Seborrhoeic dermatitis causes an itchy and sore rash on the scalp. The rash is usually red in colour, but can also appear as white scales. The scales have a tendency to flake off so many people assume it is just dandruff. The exact cause of this condition is unclear but it is thought to be due to an overgrowth of a common yeast skin organism. Seborrhoeic dermatitis tends to flare up in the winter months, and can be precipitated by stress. It runs in families and is more common in men. It is best treated with regular use of a medicated shampoo.
2) Tinea capitis or scalp ringworm is a common fungal infection. It can cause dry scaly patches within the hair or a classical red ring-like appearance. Sometimes the infection can cause damage to the hair and result in patches of hair loss. It is contagious and may be passed on via hairbrushes, towels and even the backs of chairs. It usually needs to be treated with either medicated shampoos or sometimes a prolonged course of oral antifungal tablets.
3) Psoriasis is a skin condition that often affects the scalp. It too causes a dry, scaly itchy rash and can sometimes be tricky to distinguish from other scalp conditions. It typically affects the hairline at the back of the head and can cause quite marked shedding of heavy 'dandruff'. It is usually treated with a combination of shampoos, scalp applications and sometimes more specialist treatments.
4) Head lice don't just affect children! The lice are small grey-brown insects that live on the scalp. They are most commonly spread by head to head contact, and can cause itching if your scalp is sensitive to the saliva or faeces of the lice. Over-the-counter head lice treatments are readily available.
5) Pityriasis capitis, or dandruff is the most common cause of a dry flaky scalp and affects many of us. It is caused by dead skin cells being shed more rapidly than usual and, although it is not harmful, can be irritating and embarrassing. Excessive use of some hair products can lead to dandruff. Avoiding triggers and using anti-dandruff shampoos usually solve this problem.
If you are struggling with itchy or sore patches on your scalp, then make sure you see your GP for further advice.
Dr Jessica Garner, is a GP and health blogger. Visit her blog here.