Eczema is a general term used to describe skin conditions that are red, flaky, dry, and sometimes swollen, including diaper rash and poison ivy breakouts. Scalp eczema, the most common form of eczema, is specific to the irritation of the skin on the scalp. This often manifests itself as dandruff, and can sometimes be painful. Treatment includes special shampoos and moisturizers as well as topical creams.
Scalp eczema can be caused by a number of factors. Some types are caused by exposure to an irritant, such as a detergent. Mostly, scalp eczema refers to seborrheic dermatitis, a condition which occurs in some people when a number of factors combine. These include stress and climate, as well as immunological and genealogical factors.
The oily, hairy parts of the head and the rest of the body are most susceptible to eczema. This includes the scalp, eyebrows, armpits, and the so-called “t-zone” area on the face. Although eczema can cause irritation anywhere on the body, the scalp is the most common. The exact cause of scalp eczema is unknown, but some researchers suggest the root of the problem lies in the overproduction of yeast that resides on the skin of the body called malasezzia. Changes in the surrounding climate or even excess sweating can lead to the overgrowth of this yeast and subsequent breakouts on the skin.
Scalp eczema varies in degree and intensity. Mild eczema results in dry, flaky skin, while more severe cases lead to blisters and oozing blotches of skin. Episodes of scalp eczema can last a few hours or a few days, but chronic eczema can be endured throughout a lifetime. If scalp eczema is genetic, a person is pre-disposed to the condition and often can do nothing to avoid flare-ups. The severity of the episodes, however, can sometimes be managed. It is important to take care of the skin and avoid contact with irritants which could worsen the problem. Some common irritants for the scalp include shampoos, conditioners and hair styling products.
There is no laboratory test to diagnose eczema definitively. A doctor will typically order a patch test, which exposes the skin to various types of irritants in order to find a possible allergic reaction that might be the cause. In severe cases, some skin cancers might manifest in a way that is similar to eczema, and so a biopsy of the skin could be taken to rule that out.
To treat scalp eczema, doctors might prescribe any number of corticosteroid creams or even oral steroids, to reduce inflammation and keep the condition from worsening. Over-the-counter antihistamines might provide relief from a breakout. Dandruff shampoos specifically work to try and decrease the amount of moisture lost in the scalp. In almost every case, the goal is to identify the trigger factors such as increased stress, exposure to an irritant, or even shampooing too frequently.