Is your scalp itchy, flaky, or scaly? Do you have redness, scaling or oily hair? Does your hair fall out or shed excessively? Do you have dandruff? If you answered yes to any of the above, you might have scalp fungus. This may sound like a cause for worry, but fungus on the scalp is treatable and can be managed quickly.
The fungus on your scalp thrives in an acidic environment. An acidic environment is created when you use products with high pHs or high amounts of sugar, or have an underlying condition that creates an acidic environment. Even stress can create an acidic environment.
Scalp Fungus is a condition in which fungus grows on the scalp. It is usually caused by an underlying condition such as an allergy, stress, or an underlying medical condition.
Types of Scalp Fungus:
1. Tinea Capitis: This is a fungal infection that affects the scalp and hair. It is common in children and is caused by a group of fungi called dermatophytes. These fungi thrive in warm and humid climates, so they are more common in the summer.
2. Tinea Barbae: This type of fungus infection is commonly referred to as barber’s itch. It is the same as tinea capitis, but it affects the beard area.
3. Tinea Versicolor: This is a fungal infection that causes a red or brown discoloration of the skin. It is caused by a group of fungi called yeasts and is more common in warm and humid climates.
4. Tinea Curlis: This fungal infection is commonly referred to as “ringworm.” It involves small patches of fungus that develop on the scalp and hairline and other parts of the body.
What Causes Scalp Fungus?
Scalp fungus is most commonly caused by an underlying medical condition and is usually a symptom and not a disease. Many conditions can cause scalp fungus, including:
- Diabetes and other illnesses and conditions that affect the body's ability to regulate sugar levels
- Certain medications, such as steroids, chemotherapy, and some antibiotics
- Hormonal changes that occur with pregnancy, menopause, and some medications
- Infections that cause inflammation on the scalp, such as folliculitis, a skin disorder that causes painful, pus-filled bumps
- Overuse of cosmetics, shampoos, hair products, and hair treatments, especially those that have a high pH, such as hair dyes, hair relaxers, and bleaching products
- Sun exposure, especially ultraviolet radiation
Some of these conditions may cause scalp fungus to flare up at certain times, while others may cause it to be constantly present.
Scalp fungus can also be caused by the following factors:
- High humidity
- High heat
- Excessive sweating
- Exposure to water
- Excessive rubbing or scratching of the scalp
- Use of unclean combs, brushes, and other hair care accessories
- Use of hair dyes, hair relaxers, and hair straightening products
Heat and humidity cause scalp fungus to flare up. People who spend a lot of time in the sun and people who sweat a lot are also prone to scalp fungus because these conditions cause the scalp to become warm, moist, and irritated. Scratching, rubbing, and touching the head can remove the outer layers of the scalp, which allows the fungus to penetrate the skin more easily.
Water, sweat, and poor hygiene can also keep the fungus on the scalp. It is important to wash the scalp regularly and to use clean combs, brushes, and other hair care products to remove the fungus. Oily hair can trap moisture and allow the fungus to grow. Washing the hair regularly with a shampoo that is specially formulated to treat scalp fungus is very important.
Diabetes and other illnesses and conditions that affect the body's ability to regulate sugar levels can also lead to scalp fungus. People with diabetes usually have poor circulation, so they may have an increased risk for fungal infections on the scalp. Conditions that affect the body's ability to regulate sugar levels include:
- Gestational diabetes
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Cushing syndrome
Certain medications, such as steroids, chemotherapy, and some antibiotics, can also cause scalp fungus. Steroids are used to treat inflammation of the skin, joints, and other parts of the body. They are often given to people with certain types of cancers, such as leukemia and lymphoma, asthma, and other conditions.
Chemotherapy kills fast-growing cells, such as cancer cells, as well as some healthy cells. It is given as a pill or as an intravenous injection. It is often given to people with certain types of cancers, such as leukemia and lymphoma, or to people with certain autoimmune disorders, such as Crohn's disease.
Stress and anxiety may also lead to a scalp fungus. People who have a weakened immune system or a suppressed emotional state may have a greater risk for scalp fungus.
Infections from other parts of the body may also cause scalp fungus. For example, infection from the environment, such as athlete's foot or jock itch, can spread to the scalp.
Hormones and Scalp Fungus
The hormones and other chemicals in the body can affect the growth and development of scalp fungus. For example, the reproductive hormones estrogen and progesterone increase the risk for scalp fungus in women. Estrogen is made in the ovaries and causes the growth of other parts of the body. The scalp fungus called tinea versicolor grows better with increased levels of estrogen.
Men also have testosterone, which increases the risk for scalp fungus. Scalp fungus called tinea capitis is associated with higher levels of testosterone. Both women and men can develop scalp fungus as a result of hormone imbalances or hormone therapy.
Scalp Fungus Symptoms
Scalp fungus can cause a number of symptoms, including:
- Itchy or irritated scalp
- Dry, flaky scalp
- Rash or scaly scalp
- Red, inflamed, or irritated scalp
- Oily scalp
- Hair loss or thinning or excessive shedding
- Bad odor or odorless scalp
- Foul-smelling scalp
Scalp Fungus Treatment Options
There are several methods for treating scalp fungus. Fungal infections are easy to treat with over-the-counter (OTC) creams, shampoos, or sprays. OTC treatments typically contain antifungal medications like selenium sulfide, ketoconazole, or ciclopirox. If you have a fungal infection on the scalp, it is important to use the treatment exactly as directed on the package or by your doctor. OTC products are easy to use, but they must be used in the correct amounts in order to prevent the fungus from returning.
You can use prescription antifungal medications like fluconazole, itraconazole, and terbinafine to treat scalp fungus. These medications are taken orally and are usually used for large, serious fungal infections. They can be expensive and may cause side effects like headaches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and dizziness. These medications can also interact with other medications, so speaking with a doctor before taking them is important.
Scalp Fungus Prevention
The best way to treat a scalp fungus is to prevent it from occurring in the first place. If you have problems with scalp fungus, there are several things you can do to minimize the chance of the fungus returning.
Maintain Good Hygiene: Keeping the scalp clean is very important for preventing fungal infections. It is important to wash the hair regularly and use a shampoo specially formulated to treat scalp fungus.
Avoid Hot and Humid Environments: Hot and humid environments can contribute to scalp fungus. It is important to avoid these conditions and to keep the scalp dry.
Wear Protective Headgear: If you are under the weather or have a condition that makes you more susceptible to scalp fungus, it may be helpful to wear a hat. This will help to protect the scalp from environmental factors that could cause the fungus to flare up.
Avoid Rubbing, Scratching, or Touching the Scalp: Scratching or rubbing the scalp can remove the outer layers of the skin, which allows the fungus to penetrate the skin more easily. It is important to avoid these activities.
Use a Comb with Fine-Toothed Prongs: Using a comb with fine-toothed prongs can help remove the fungus from the scalp. You can also use a fine-toothed comb after you wash your hair.
Preventing scalp fungus is very important. This is because the fungus can cause severe irritation and itching and can be difficult to treat. If you have a fungal infection on your scalp, it is important to use the treatment exactly as directed on the package or by your doctor.
If you experience a serious recurrence of the fungus, speak with a doctor. A doctor may be able to prescribe a different treatment or advise you on other measures you can take to prevent further infections.
Scalp fungus can be difficult to treat, but there are several treatment options available. Using OTC treatments or antifungal medications can effectively treat scalp fungus. It is important to use these products exactly as directed on the package or by your doctor. Experience a serious recurrence of the fungus. It may be helpful to speak with a doctor, who may be able to prescribe a different treatment or advise you on other measures you can take to prevent further infections.
This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical or other professional advice. Your specific circumstances should be discussed with a healthcare provider. All statements of opinion represent the writers' judgement at the time of publication and are subject to change. Phoenix and its affiliates provide no express or implied endorsements of third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products, or services.