An itchy flaky scalp may be caused by infections, congenital conditions, allergies, and a variety of other factors. Patients who notice scalp changes can consult a dermatologist for advice and evaluation to determine their cause and develop a treatment plan. In some cases a referral to a specialist may be necessary to handle an unusual scalp condition or a disorder associated with more systemic health problems.
One reason to have an itchy flaky scalp is the result of an infection with fungi, bacteria, or other organisms. Localized inflammation can also occur without the presence of an infectious agent. The patient might notice pustules or lumps and seepage along with the flakes and itchiness. Topical creams are available to soothe irritated scalps and address the underlying cause of the infection.
Some skin conditions like psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis can involve the scalp. In this case, the condition may be difficult to treat, but can often be managed with shampoos, topical creams, and other tools. Skin problems may be present elsewhere on the body for these patients, especially around folds in the skin, including the backs of the knees and around the nose.
Allergies and irritation can contribute to the condition. Some patients are allergic to ingredients in hair products and develop a reaction on their scalps, while others may notice problems after pulling the hair tight or wearing sharp pins. Systemic allergies can also be the basis for an itchy flaky scalp. For example, allergies to an ingested food can cause a rash to break out.
Genetics can play a role as well. Some families have a history of dandruff as well as generally dry scalps. The dryness can generate flakes, which may itch, and people may make the situation worse by scratching. An itchy flaky scalp in this case may be treatable with deep moisturizing products for the hair and scalp. These help the body retain moisture and limit flaking, along with the accompanying skin irritation.
Itchy flaky scalp can also arise as a medication reaction or a response to something like the conductive gel used in an electroencephalography study. Patients who notice sudden changes in their scalp health can discuss any alterations to their habits with a dermatologist to explore possible causes. It may be possible to treat an itchy flaky scalp by switching shampoos, adding moisturizer to a hair care regimen, or taking other simple steps. For more serious cases, medication is an option.