An itch on the head

An itch on the head

Fungal scalp infections can lead to excessive hairloss, even baldness, if left untreated, warns Dr Shahid Shamsher.

With soaring mercury levels, the perspiration on the scalp may increase, and in the  absence of adequate hygiene measures, may lead to vexing fungal or bacterial infections. Knowing about these common scalp infections, their symptoms, treatment and preventive measures, can save you from a lot of trouble.

Fungal infections of the scalp: Malassezia furfur and Tinea capitis (also known as ringworm of the scalp) are the two most common fungal infectious agents of the scalp and hair shafts. Malassezia may affect not just the scalp, but also eyebrows, eyelashes, inside of ears, corners of the nose and the hairy region of the chest. Like dandruff, it causes itching and irritation, and is responsible for diffused hair loss. It flourishes best at around 35°C and is lipophilic in nature, which means it requires an environment high in fats or oils to grow. Therefore, oil application on scalp can aggravate Malassezia furfur infection. 

Ringworm infection is not caused by a worm but since it causes hair loss in round or circular patches, it is named ‘ringworm infection’. It manifests as itchy, red and inflamed, bald patches on the head and the condition is known as Alopecia areata. The fungus gets into the hair fibres, making them brittle and easy to break. When it affects the beard, it is known as Alopecia areata barbae. 

Being highly contagious, these fungal infections usually spread through either direct head-to-head contact with an infected person or contact with contaminated objects like helmets, head covers (stoles, scarves, caps), towels, bed sheets, pillows, combs or brushes. Pet animals, especially dogs and cats, are also the carriers of these infectious agents. 

Hygiene is, therefore, the foremost measure to control fungal infection. Wash hands and hair regularly and avoid sharing articles that come in direct contact with the head region of an already infected person. 

To evade complications, medical intervention is absolutely essential in case of fungal infections of the scalp. The doctor generally prescribes the use of oral medications along with topical applications (cream or lotion) and medicated shampoo, to treat the infection. 

(The writer is a consultant at Dr Health, Bangalore)