Scalp psoriasis often co-exists with other psoriasis types. Around one-half of people with psoriasis will also experience symptoms in the scalp area. Less frequently, scalp psoriasis appears as an isolated condition.
Overview of Scalp Psoriasis
As its name suggests, scalp psoriasis affects the skin on the top of your head. Usually, it appears on the back of the head. However, it can also pop-up on the forehead, behind the ears, and on the neck.
The thick and scaly patches of skin can vary significantly in size. In severe cases, they cover all the scalp and extend beyond the hairline.
Scalp psoriasis can be an aesthetic issue. It affects a person’s physical appearance, and even more so when the flare-ups are not camouflaged well enough by the hair and when the dandruff-like flaking of the skin is present.
The condition is not contagious. It is an autoimmune disease and a chronic health problem.
Symptoms of Scalp Psoriasis
The symptoms of scalp psoriasis are not the same for everyone. They differ in severity from mild to severe.
Mild symptoms usually only include fine scaling of the skin. In moderate cases, the patches of scaly skin are well-defined and visible. The most severe manifestation of symptoms involves:
- Dry scalp
- Burning sensation
- Hair loss
Due to the similarity of symptoms, scalp psoriasis can easily be confused with seborrheic dermatitis and other conditions that affect the scalp.
Causes and Triggers for Scalp Psoriasis
In most cases, scalp psoriasis is plaque psoriasis that appears on the scalp. The reasons for this are unknown.
Scientists understand that the immune system of a person with psoriasis is overstimulated. That results in the overproduction of neutrophils and T-cells. A higher number of these cells increases the risk of an autoimmune response.
In simple words, your body may identify healthy skin cells as intruders. That causes faster-than-normal production of these cells. The cells build-up on the top of the skin and cause inflammation. The symptoms of psoriasis such as flaking and redness are just consequences of this inflammation.
Genetic factors play a large part as well. We know that, since psoriasis tends to run in families. For example, if one of your parents has scalp psoriasis, you are at a greater risk of having it, too.
There are also some triggers associated with scalp psoriasis. These are:
- Frequent infections
- Alcohol addiction
- Skin injuries
- Certain medications
- Vitamin D deficiency
How to tell the difference between scalp psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis
The two most common scalp-affecting skin conditions are seborrheic dermatitis and scalp psoriasis. The symptoms of these diseases are similar. That makes it difficult to tell one from the other and complicates the diagnosis and the treatment plan.
Here are some differences between scalp psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis:
- Seborrheic dermatitis is a skin irritation caused by allergens, chemicals, or infections.
- Scalp psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that requires genetic predisposition. However, some environmental factors can act as triggers for this condition.
- In seborrheic dermatitis, yellow scales and dandruff appear on the surface of the skin.
- In scalp psoriasis, the scales are silvery-red, flaky, and itchy.
- A biopsy sample of skin with seborrheic dermatitis will show irritations and, less commonly, the presence of fungi or bacteria.
- A sample taken from a patch of scalp psoriasis will show abnormal growth of skin cells associated with this condition.
Psoriatic Hair Loss
Scalp psoriasis does not cause permanent hair loss. In most people, it does not cause any hair loss at all. However, localized alopecia (hair loss) is possible in more severe cases.
Scalp scratching and pulling off the scales from the inflamed patches of skin are common causes of localized hair loss. The hair that’s lost in this way grows back with time.
Other hair loss issues like generalized shedding of hair can occur as a side effect of treatment with oral retinoids, scarring, or the existence of other autoimmune diseases such as alopecia areata.
Scalp Psoriasis Diagnosis
To get a proper assessment of your condition, you’ll need to see a dermatologist. After a visual exam, they will set up a diagnosis and determine a treatment plan. In some cases, a sample of the skin (biopsy) is necessary to identify the problem with 100% accuracy.
Scalp Psoriasis: The Final Word
Scalp psoriasis often accompanies other forms of psoriasis. It causes inflammation, redness, itchiness, and flaking of the scalp and the surrounding areas. The condition is chronic and requires medical treatment to relieve discomfort, reduce the risk of complications, and improve the quality of life in affected individuals.