An itchy scalp is a common ailment, one that may be the result of a skin condition or not. Beyond the discomfort of the itchiness, an itchy scalp can cause several problems. For some people, the condition can be embarrassing. It might be socially unacceptable scratch one's head in public, and the fear of unattractive flakes in the hair or on the shoulders can make some uncomfortable and self-conscious.
A common cause of itchy scalp for adults is dandruff. Typically caused by a number of skin conditions, including seborrheic dermatitis, psoriasis, eczema and other factors, dandruff refers to the characteristic flakes of itchy, oily dead skin that can fall from the scalp. It's a symptom of numerous scalp disorders, including scalp fungus, eczema, psoriasis and other causes [source: Mayo Clinic]. Dandruff also can be mild or extremely severe. In mild cases, some simple lifestyle changes can eliminate the problem; extreme cases, on the other hand, may require some treatment.
In children, an itchy scalp is often the sign of a different condition altogether. As many parents can probably attest, an infestation of head lice is a common childhood disease that spreads easily. The scientific name, Pediculosis capitis, describes the tiny parasite that feeds on blood from the victim's scalp. The scalp itches because the saliva from the pests causes an allergic reaction [source: Mayo Clinic]. Children are also likely to get scalp ringworm, another contagious condition that causes itchiness.
Some scalp ailments aren't just itchy -- they can hurt due to painfully tender spots or a burning sensation in places. Sometimes the itchiness can be so severe that the sufferer breaks the skin. When that happens, there's a risk that the open wounds will get infected and lead to further problems. An itchy scalp can also be so uncomfortable that the victim has trouble sleeping. Another potential consequence is hair loss, although it's usually temporary.
See the next page to learn how to lower your odds of falling victim to some types of itchy scalp.