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Scalp Pain: Causes, Treatment, and More

The basics

Highlights

  1. Common symptoms of scalp pain include prickling, burning, or tingling sensations.
  2. You may be more prone to scalp pain if you have a naturally greasy or dry scalp.
  3. If first-line treatments aren’t working, your doctor may prescribe stronger medication or special shampoo.

Scalp pain can be caused by a number of things, from easy-to-treat dandruff to infection or infestation. Common symptoms include prickling, burning, or tingling sensations, as well as flaky, itchy skin. Keep reading to learn more about the potential causes and what you can do to treat them.

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Causes

What causes scalp pain?

Common causes of scalp pain include the following:

Skin disorders

Dermatitis is a common condition associated with a general inflammation of the skin. Symptoms include an itchy rash and swollen skin. You may also experience blisters, crusts, or flakes. These symptoms can be triggered by contact with many common things, such as:

  • certain metals
  • certain soaps
  • poison ivy
  • certain cosmetics
  • pollution
  • water
  • certain laundry detergents
  • certain hair products

Infections

Folliculitis, furunculosis, and carbunculosis are all infections of the hair follicles that can cause scalp sensitivity. These infections can be painful, sore, or warm to the touch. They often affect the back of the neck, the back of the scalp, or the armpit. Sometimes, pus can be squeezed out from these skin lesions.

Fungal infections of the scalp, such as tinea capitis and tinea versicolor, are most common in children and can cause hair loss.

Infestations

What may look like flakes of dandruff could be lice. If you’re experiencing any itchiness or have red bumps that may crust or ooze, you should seek immediate medical attention. Lice is highly contagious and can live up to 30 days on your scalp or body. Lice eggs can live even longer.

Headaches

A tension headache can also cause scalp pain. Stress, depression, or anxiety can cause or worsen your symptoms, making muscles tense.

Temporal arteritis

The temporal artery is a blood vessel that runs on the side of your head in front of your ear. Temporal arteritis is a condition in which the temporal artery becomes inflamed and very tender to touch. Symptoms associated with this condition include jaw pain, headaches, and visual disturbances.

Temporal arteritis most often affects older adults. This is especially true of those with a condition called polymyalgia rheumatica.

Other possibilities

Scalp pain can also be caused by:

  • sunburn
  • heat
  • cold
  • wind

This pain can also be worsened or triggered by hair loss. For women, hormones associated with the menstrual cycle may also contribute to scalp pain.

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Risk factors

Risk factors to consider

Those with naturally greasy or dry scalp are more prone to scalp pain and may even experience sensitive skin in other areas. You may also be more likely to experience symptoms if you:

  • are stressed
  • are anxious
  • are depressed
  • live in an area with a varying climate or cold temperatures
  • have allergies
  • have asthma
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Treatment

How is scalp pain treated?

Treatments vary depending on the cause or symptom. Special shampoos like Selsun Blue or Head & Shoulders can help alleviate itchiness or dry, flaky scalp. Ibuprofen or similar OTC medication may help relieve inflammation or headaches that cause sensitivity.

Certain essential oils, such as lavender or rosemary, can help heal sores that may be causing scalp pain. However, applying undiluted essential oil to your scalp may make your symptoms worse. Before applying, test the mixture on a small patch of skin. Wait 24 hours to determine whether your skin is going to have a reaction. If it doesn’t, it should be okay to use the mixture on your scalp.

To apply the oil, take a glass of warm water and add a 1/2 teaspoon of the oil you wish to try. Mix it well and gently massage the mixture into your hair and scalp. Leave it in for 15 to 20 minutes, and then wash it out.

Depending on your symptoms, you may need to seek medical attention. If first-line treatments aren’t relieving your irritation, your doctor may prescribe stronger medication or special shampoo. If special care is needed, you doctor may refer you to a dermatologist.

Check out: What lavender can do for you »

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Takeaway

The bottom line

Although some people naturally have a tender scalp, an underlying medical condition may also be causing your symptoms. If your symptoms are severe and continue to persist, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor. Whether this can clear up in a few days or a few weeks depends on your symptoms.



Keep reading: What’s causing my scalp condition? »

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