Scalp Infections That Can Cause Hair Loss

Scalp Infections That Can Cause Hair Loss

Hair loss is a common problem. A few problems like hair fall, mild dandruff, dryness, and itchiness can often be overlooked because of how ordinary they are. However, oftentimes, these seemingly small problems are the telltales of a larger issue.

Symptoms that last for a long time and don't resolve themselves even after you've changed your hair products can indicate an underlying medical condition.

 

Scalp Infections - How They Occur and Why They Cause Hair Loss

Scalp infections are often the result of a build-up of bacteria and fungi penetrating the hair and the scalp. If this is not addressed promptly, the bacteria can enter the hair follicles, causing them to get damaged and stop producing hair entirely. 

Oily scalps can turn into breeding grounds for infections because the sebum pulls the pores and leaves them exposed. Furthermore, using someone else's hair products like combs, towels, or helmets can lead to scalp infections.

 Another reason why scalp infections can take place without recognition is when the scalp and hair are left dirty for a long time. This leads to an imbalance of the proteins in your hair and can take a turn for the worse sooner rather than later.

There are several types of scalp infections that can cause hair loss, thinning, and deterioration of hair and scalp health in general. In adults, these infections are of viral and bacterial nature, whereas, in kids, it's most likely caused by fungal growth. 

Malassezia Infection is one of the most widespread scalp infections that take place due to fungal out-growth. The biggest cause of this type of infection is unforeseen hormonal changes in the body. Such changes lead to excessive oil production on the scalp. There is a high chance of infection if the scalp is unsanitary.

Ringworm is a well-known chronic fungal scalp infection that leads to round bald patches on the scalp. This hinders growth completely and requires extensive care and medical attention.

Then there's the infamous bacterial infection called folliculitis. This infection damages the hair follicles and leads to an acne-like appearance on the scalp. Much like all bacterial infections, folliculitis is contagious. It can spread from one person to another if they share hair grooming products like combs or anything that comes in direct contact with the scalp, like pillows.

Virus-based scalp infections are extremely rare, but infections like chickenpox and herpes simplex virus can affect the scalp.

The most painful type of scalp infection is lice. This is caused by the presence of tiny blood-sucking insects. It's highly contagious but can be resolved by a series of clarifying hair washes. Furthermore, baby scalp infections like seborrheic eczema are typical and settle down over time.

 

Scalp Infections That Cause Hair Loss

Scalp infections can cause a host of problems like flakiness, stunted hair growth, bald patches, discoloration of the scalp, damaged hair follicles, hair loss, etc. That said, one of the most common repercussions of a scalp infection is hair loss.

 Various scalp infections are responsible for causing moderate to severe hair loss. Let's have a look at some scalp infections that cause hair loss.

 

Ringworm

Ringworm, also referred to as tinea capitis, is a type of fungal infection that presents itself in a ring-shaped scar. This infection can affect any part of the body as well as the scalp. It leads to a red, scaling bald patch, which can cause more such patches on a different part of the scalp.

This can lead to multiple bald patches where the hair stops growing entirely. Ringworm is more common in children than adults. 

More often than not, tinea capitis is contracted by other people with the infection in places that are susceptible to dampness, like pools and animals. The risk of ringworm significantly reduces if you avoid using other people's hair products or towels.

If you have pets or often work around animals, washing your hands immediately after establishing contact can help. Take your pet to the vet if you think that it may have an infection.

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Treating Ringworm

Ringworm is a persistent and painful fungal infection. It can't be treated by over-the-counter creams, lotions, or powders that are applied directly to the scalp. This scalp infection needs to be treated by a medical professional who understands the severity of the problem.

Doctors usually prescribe a course of antifungal medication that may last anywhere from one to three months.

 

Folliculitis

As mentioned, folliculitis is a type of bacterial scalp infection. If someone has hair follicles that are compromised due to any possible reason, it can leave the scalp prone to infection. Folliculitis can be identified by the formation of small red rings around hair follicles. This is often accompanied by pain and itching.

Folliculitis occurs because damaged hair follicles give way to bacteria, causing an infection. It usually infects the scalp when the hair is shaved or plucked directly without any damage prevention. Touching the scalp over and over again can transfer the bacteria from your fingers to the scalp.

Furthermore, keeping your hair in a tight hairstyle for long periods or wearing accessories like hats and helmets without adequate care can lead to folliculitis. This is because it creates a buildup of sweat and heat on the scalp.

 

Treating Folliculitis

Much like most bacterial infections, folliculitis takes place when the ground for infection is unhealthy. This means that if you have recently shaved your head or worn your hair in a tight bun that's causing itching, make sure to keep it clean by washing it right after.

You should wash the scalp with a gentle clarifying shampoo regularly to prevent a bacterial infection.

If the pain and itching are overwhelming, it may be helpful to apply a warm cloth to the scalp. Bacterial folliculitis usually clears up on its own, but if it doesn't, doctors will prescribe medication to treat it.

 

Impetigo

Harmless bacteria like Staphylococcus live on the skin, and they can cause an infection if they make contact with a damaged skin surface. This causes an infection called Impetigo. It usually appears on the face, specifically around the nose and the mouth.

 Another example of bacteria that can cause a skin infection is Streptococcus, which is present when someone is sick, also known as "strep throat". Such bacteria are contagious and often spread from direct contact with the infected person or used products like towels, combs, clothes, utensils, etc.

While Impetigo mostly occurs on the face, it can affect any part of the body, and that includes the scalp. If the skin surface of the scalp is broken or exposed in any manner and comes in contact with bacteria, it can become infected.

Impetigo is a contagious scalp infection that can be identified by painful red sores on the skin, which break and lead to a yellow-brown abrasion. Furthermore, it can also lead to large painful blisters which burst and leave the skin sore and itchy.

 

Treating Impetigo

Impetigo is treated with an antibiotic cream which helps soothe the scalp and contains the infection enough to stop it from spreading. This treatment starts to work within 48 hours, and the infection should clear up in a week.

In some cases, the doctor may need to prescribe oral antibiotics or administer injections to treat the affected areas of the scalp. Remember to consult a doctor for examination before consuming any medication to prevent the infection from getting worse.

 

Fungal Infections

Scalp fungal infections here refer to infections caused by a fungus present in the environment, which are particularly rare. For example, mucormycosis is a rare infection that takes place when fungi found in the soil come in contact with broken skin or the surface of the scalp.

The fungus can enter the body through any scars or wounds caused by skin conditions. Such fungal infections can lead to ulcers on the skin, blisters, pulsating warmth around the infected area, redness, and pain.

People who have a compromised immune system are at a relatively higher risk for scalp fungal infections as well as fungal infections in general. In order to curb the possibility of a fungal infection, it's important to keep any bruises or cuts covered to prevent contact.

 

Treating Fungal Infections

Scalp fungal infections are generally treated by oral antifungal medication. In case the course of medication is not helpful, the doctor may recommend antifungal injections.

 

Seborrheic Dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis is a considerably common skin condition. It causes dry skin and flakiness, often resulting in a painful and itchy surface. A typical form of seborrheic dermatitis is cradle cap, which surfaces on a baby's scalp. As for adults, seborrheic dermatitis usually presents itself as dandruff.

Treating Seborrheic Dermatitis

This condition usually resolves on its own. The best course of treatment for seborrheic dermatitis is washing the scalp with an anti-dandruff shampoo. In babies, doctors recommend gentle extraction of the flakes while shampooing. They may prescribe medication to apply on the scalp.

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If this doesn't work and the problem keeps getting worse, it's important to get in touch with your doctor. They can help you find more probable solutions, such as a barrier-repair cream to help make the scalp stronger or medical hair products that may improve the scalp's health.

 

Piedra

Piedra, also the Spanish word for "stone", is a superficial fungal infection that affects the hair shaft. It leads to damaged and brittle hair due to the formation of small nodules on the hair. This infection hinders natural hair growth.

Treating Piedra

Piedra is treated by oral terbinafine and topical antifungal creams like itraconazole, imidazoles, ciclopirox olamine, and selenium sulfide.

 

Scalp Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition that develops because of a weak immune system. Many people with this condition end up with psoriasis of the scalp. It causes red, thick patches on the scalp with heavy silver scales.

Treating Scalp Psoriasis

Scalp psoriasis is most commonly treated with topical creams for skin abrasions, UV light therapy, and oral medication. Psoriasis is not curable, but its symptoms can be managed by avoiding triggers like smoking and stress and protecting the skin from possible injury.

 

Lichen Planus

Lichen Planus is a skin condition that rarely develops on the scalp. In case it does, it causes red-purple abscesses on the skin. This leads to thinning hair, redness, pain, itching, and a generally irritated scalp.

Treating Lichen Planus

Treatment for lichen planus includes topical creams and antihistamines to relieve painful symptoms. Doctors are not sure as to what causes this condition, and it presumably goes away on its own. However, in some cases, it requires treatment options like corticosteroids, UV light therapy, and retinoic acid-based creams or serums.

 

Scleroderma

Scleroderma is an infection wherein the body produces more collagen than is needed. Collagen is responsible for providing structure and support to the skin tissues. Too much collagen causes the skin to harden abnormally.

There is no explanation for what is responsible for this rare skin condition, but doctors believe that it may have something to do with the immune system. When the skin or the surface of the scalp becomes thicker than usual, the tissue underneath disappears. This leads to the formation of a tight line on the scalp.

When scleroderma affects the scalp, it's often addressed by the French term en coup de sabre. This is because it defines the hard lines or marks made by a sword, also known as a saber.

Treating Scleroderma

Scleroderma of the scalp is treated by UV therapy, medication, and in some cases, cosmetic fillers to make the skin take its original form.

In a nutshell, scalp infections are painful. In more severe cases, they can interfere with the daily life of the individual. That said, scalp infections are not as complicated as they may seem. They usually have a relatively simple resolve to follow. But, it's important to not ignore the concerning symptoms.

 Consult a doctor as soon as you notice something out of the ordinary. Please remember that medication that is not prescribed for your particular scalp infection can lead to further complications so it's better to make an appointment with your doctor instead of taking a trip to the pharmacy.