What Is scalp Infection ?

The scalp is prone to infections from many different types of organisms. Fungi, yeast and bacteria are by far the commonest. Chronic and untreated scalp infection is one of the leading causes of hair loss. Scalp infections can trigger premature baldness, a reason why more men and women are found balding in their early 20’s and 30’s. Early detection is the best form of prevention as it leads to early treatment.

Types of Scalp Infections

Malassezia infections

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Ringworm Infections

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Bacterial Folliculitis

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Lice Infestations

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What are the causes of scalp infection?

An oily scalp

The scalp secretes its own natural oil called sebum which provides lubrication and facilitates the movement of hair. However this sebum when secreted in excess can lead to a host of problems. When first secreted, the sebum is semi-solid in nature, but after a while starts solidifying, forming sebum plugs, which get stuck to the hair and scalp.

This is the same process by which glue-products like “m-seal” work. These sebum plugs then attract fungal infection. Fungi find sebum as a good source of food and therefore grow very easily on an oily scalp. Directly or indirectly the infection then affects hair growth leading to hair loss and sometimes considerable baldness.

Contamination or Cross infection

In addition to an oily scalp repeated and frequent exposure to contaminated items increases the chances of catching a fungal infection. Common ways of catching these infections are through contaminated water, combs, pillow covers, salon equipments and unbelievable as it may sound, even through soap nut powders and henna leaves. Helmets are also a leading cause of scalp infections. The person wearing the helmet tends to profusely sweat on the head. The inner sponge lining of the helmet soaks up all this sweat and becomes a breeding ground for organisms, thereby causing scalp infections.

Like many other infections, scalp infections can also be airborne. For example, if a piece of bread is allowed to stay on the table for two days, there will be fungal growth on it. Fungal infections can often run a chronic course. Some people are found to have fungal infections for as long as 20-30 years at a stretch.

There is a very interesting story of fungal infections and the Pharaoh’s tomb in Egypt. In the 1920’s when the Pharaoh Tutankhamen’s tomb was broken into by the archaeologists, they were warned by the natives, that there is curse on them and they would soon die. Being men of science they naturally did not believe in this, but strangely enough some of them did die, within the next few years. For a long time it was unexplained, until recently when it was found that they suffered from fungal infections of the lungs. Its seems the pharaohs tomb was airtight for 2000 years during which there was plenty of fungal growth in the tomb and the first few people who entered the tomb inhaled the contaminated air and died from it. That’s how tenacious fungal infections can be.

Stress

When the body experiences stress it increases the secretion of certain hormones like Cortisol which in turn causes excess sebum production on the scalp. The sebum secretion is full of fatty acids and a rich source of food for the various organisms which then grow and flourish on the scalp. Stress also causes lowering of the body’s immune system and its ability to fight diseases. Which is why people under stress often fall sick more easily, then those not under stress.

A CEO of an IT company suddenly developed multiple boils on his scalp in a short span of 3-4 days. His company was going through bad times and he was given the task to lay off 100 odd employees from his company. He was found to be under tremendous mental stress figuring how he would break the news and how he would pick the employees to be laid off.

How are scalp infections diagnosed?

Diagnosis is usually done through the following methods.

  • Observation of the symptoms
  • Visual inspection of the scalp condition under UV light
  • Collection of scalp scrapings for laboratory analysis
  • Tricho Analysis which can help to differentiate between the various types and show the severity and extent of infection and how much it has affected the hair roots.

How can scalp infections be prevented?

Avoid scratching the head

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Avoid sharing personal items

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Clean Helmets Regularly

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Do Not Skip On Hygiene

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Use The Right Shampoo

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How are scalp infections treated?

Treatment varies depending on the type of infection and the organism involved. Depending on the severity, oral medications or external applications or both are advised. Treatment may involve shaving off the head for better accessibility and absorption of the medication.

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