Contact your healthcare provider or local health department if you are at risk for coronavirus (COVID-19). To help reduce the spread of COVID-19, please avoid the emergency department except in the event of an emergency. | Learn More
View All Services
Find a New Primary Care Provider
Search by Specialty
View All Locations
Discover classes, events, tours, and groups that fit your interests.
Home > Be Healthy > Health Library > Scalp Problems
Many people have hair or scalp problems. Hair may thin or fall out, break off, or grow slowly. Dandruff or an itching or peeling scalp may cause embarrassment and discomfort. Hair and scalp problems can be upsetting, but they usually are not caused by serious medical problems.
Hair loss, including thinning and breaking, is the most common scalp problem. Most people lose from 50 to 100 hairs per day.
Hair gradually thins as people age, although not all people are affected to the same degree. Hereditary thinning or balding is the most common cause of thinning hair. You can inherit this from either your mother's or father's side of the family. Women with this trait develop thinning hair, while men may become completely bald. The condition can start in the teens, 20s, or 30s.
Babies often lose their fine baby hair, which is then replaced by mature hair. Because of changes in hormones, women often lose hair for 1 to 6 months after childbirth or after breastfeeding is completed.
Other possible causes for excessive hair loss, thinning, or breakage include:
Itching, flaking, or crusting of the scalp may be caused by:
Painful sores, blisters, or bumps that develop on the scalp may be caused by:
Skin cancer can occur on the scalp, particularly in areas not well-covered by hair. It can destroy skin cells and tissues and, in some cases, spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body. Skin cancer may appear as a growth or mole, a change in a growth or mole, a sore that does not heal, or irritation of the skin. The three most common types of skin cancer are basal cell skin cancer, squamous cell skin cancer, and melanoma.
The treatment for scalp problems depends on what is causing the problem.
Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be able to take care of this problem at home.
Symptoms of infection may include:
Many prescription and nonprescription medicines can cause hair loss or thinning or other scalp problems. A few examples are:
Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and illness. Some examples in adults are:
Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and illness. Some examples in children are:
A change to a mole or other skin spot can mean that the spot has:
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical care.
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The problem probably will not get better without medical care.
Try one of the following home treatment measures to resolve a scalp problem.
There may be other things you can do at home for other kinds of scalp problems.
Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home treatment:
To maintain normal hair production, eat 2 to 3 servings of protein a day. Protein is found in meat, chicken, fish, eggs, some cheeses, dried beans, tofu, grains, and nuts. For more information, see the topic Healthy Eating.
Treat your hair gently. If your hair breaks easily:
To prevent head lice, do not share hats, combs, or other items. For more information, see the topic Head Lice.
To prevent skin cancer, protect your scalp (and the rest of your skin) from the sun.
For more information, see the topics Skin Cancer, Melanoma and Skin Cancer, Nonmelanoma.
To prepare for your appointment, see the topicMaking the Most of Your Appointment.
You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to answer the following questions:
Current as of: June 25, 2019
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family MedicineE. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Current as of: June 25, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2020 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.