Scalp Infections: Causes, Types, Symptoms and Their Treatments


The scalp is not only the canvas upon which we style our hair but also a complex ecosystem susceptible to various infections that can impact hair health. From fungal infections to bacterial and viral conditions, scalp infections can disrupt the hair growth cycle, leading to symptoms such as hair loss, itching, and inflammation. Understanding the different types of scalp infections and their effects on hair health is essential for early detection, effective treatment, and preserving luscious locks.

How are Scalp Infections Diagnosed?

Diagnosing scalp infections typically involves a two-pronged approach by a doctor or dermatologist:

Physical examination: The doctor will first examine your scalp closely, looking for signs of infection such as:

  • Redness
  • Scaliness
  • Bumps or pustules
  • Patchy hair loss
  • Crusting
  • Oozing sores

Tests: Depending on the causes, additional tests might be needed:

Sample collection: In some cases, the doctor might gently scrape a sample of hair or skin flakes from the scalp for microscopic examination. This helps identify the presence of fungus or bacteria.

Fungal culture: If a fungal infection is suspected, the doctor might send a sample for culture. This involves growing the fungus in a lab to confirm the specific type and determine the most effective treatment.

For some scalp infections, doctors may use additional tests to rule out underlying medical conditions, such as blood sugar tests for diabetes. By combining the physical examination with any necessary tests, the doctor can accurately diagnose the type of scalp infection and recommend the most appropriate treatment plan.

Types of Scalp Infections, Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Type of Scalp Infection Cause Symptoms Treatment
Folliculitis Bacteria or fungus Red, itchy bumps on the scalp, sometimes with pus Topical antibiotics or antifungals depending on the cause. In severe cases, oral antibiotics.
Ringworm Fungus Itchy, scaly patches on the scalp, possible hair loss Antifungal shampoos or oral medications.
Seborrheic Dermatitis Fungal overgrowth (Malassezia) Red, scaly patches with greasy flakes, itching Antifungal shampoos containing ketoconazole, selenium sulfide, or zinc pyrithione. May also involve corticosteroids to reduce inflammation.
Impetigo Bacteria (Staphylococcus aureus or Streptococcus pyogenes) Oozing, crusty sores on scalp, very contagious Topical or oral antibiotics depending on severity.
Scalp Psoriasis Autoimmune condition Red, scaly patches with well-defined borders, may cause hair loss Topical corticosteroids, coal tar shampoos, or light therapy. More severe cases might require oral medications.

Read Also: Natural Home Remedies To Prevent Hair Fall And Regrowth

Fungal Infections

Fungal infections of the scalp, such as tinea capitis (ringworm), are common in children but can also affect adults. These diseases are typically caused by dermatophyte fungi that can lead to hair loss, scaling, and inflammation of the scalp. Tinea capitis may present with circular bald patches and broken-off hairs resembling black dots.

Bacterial Infections

Bacterial infections of the scalp, such as folliculitis and cellulitis, occur when bacteria enter the hair follicles or surrounding skin, leading to inflammation and infection. The symptoms of folliculitis are red, pus-filled bumps around the hair follicles, while cellulitis presents with redness, swelling, and warmth of the scalp.

Viral Infections 

Viral infections of the scalp, such as herpes simplex virus (HSV) and varicella-zoster virus (VZV), can cause conditions like herpes zoster (shingles) and herpetic folliculitis. These infections may present with painful blisters, rash, and hair loss in the affected Area.

Scalp Infections that Cause Hair Loss

Two main types of scalp infections can cause hair loss:

Folliculitis  – This is a common infection of the hair follicles, which can be caused by bacteria or fungus. It typically causes small, red, white-headed bumps on the scalp that may itch or be sore. In most cases, folliculitis doesn’t cause permanent hair loss. However, a severe form called folliculitis decalvans can damage hair follicles and lead to permanent bald patches.

Ringworm- This is a fungal infection that can cause itchy, scaly patches on the scalp. Ringworm can cause hair loss in the infected areas. The hair may break off short or fall out completely. In most cases, the hair will grow back once the infection is treated. However, there is a chance of permanent scarring if the infection is severe.

Read More: How to Stop Hair Fall Immediately at Home for Male?


Can I Prevent Scalp Infections?

Preventing scalp infections involves practicing good hygiene habits, such as regularly washing the scalp with a gentle shampoo, avoiding sharing personal items like combs and hats, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle to support the body’s immune system.

What Causes Scalp Infections

Causes of Scalp Infections: Bacterial, fungal, or viral pathogens, poor hygiene, cuts or wounds, sharing contaminated items, and compromised immune system.