Scalp Yeast Infection
What is a scalp yeast infection?
A scalp yeast infection is a yeast infection on the skin of your head. A yeast infection of the skin is called candidiasis. Candidiasis is a fungal infection that can develop almost anywhere in or on your body. A yeast called Candida causes candidiasis. Yeast is a type of fungus.
Your skin naturally has many types of fungus that live on it, including yeasts such as Candida. This is normal and doesn’t usually cause any problems for healthy people. But when Candida has the chance to gather, it can dig beneath the surface of your skin. This can cause a skin infection.
Symptoms and Causes
What causes a scalp yeast infection?
A yeast called Candida causes most scalp yeast infections or candidiasis. Candida can grow and thrive in warm, damp environments. Your scalp has a natural balance of yeast and bacteria. The bacteria help prevent the overgrowth of yeast on your skin. Sometimes your body’s natural balance of yeast and bacteria becomes unbalanced. When this happens, Candida has the opportunity to collect. Conditions that allow Candida to grow include:
- Hot and humid climates.
- Certain personal grooming products that contain harsh chemicals.
- Small cuts on your scalp that provide an entryway.
- Skin conditions such as intertrigo and psoriasis.
- Follicular occlusion syndrome: When your hair follicles become blocked by keratin, a protein in your hair. When the follicles get blocked, they rupture and cause inflammation.
- Excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis).
Scalp yeast infections are more common in some groups of people. This includes people who are:
- Taking antibiotics. Antibiotics can kill the bacteria that normally live on your skin, allowing Candida to grow.
- Receiving cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy.
- Eating an unhealthy diet, such as too much sugar and starch.
- Experiencing stress.
Yeast infections are also more common in people with weakened immune systems. This may be because of conditions such as diabetes or the use of medications that suppress your immune system.
What are the symptoms of a scalp yeast infection?
A scalp yeast infection causes an itchy rash on your scalp. The rash may be red or purple and appear in patches of various shapes. The rash may crack and crusts may form. This crusting could cause hair loss. You may also notice:
- Flaky, white scales.
- Thick white or yellow greasy patches.
- Soft and white moist areas.
- White and red pus-filled pimples.
Is a scalp yeast infection contagious?
Scalp yeast infections aren’t usually contagious. But if you have a weakened immune system, you should be more careful around people with yeast infections. People with weakened immune systems have a greater risk of catching an infection.
Diagnosis and Tests
How is a scalp yeast infection diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider may perform a physical examination. Your provider may be able to confirm you have a yeast infection by looking at your scalp. Red or purple patches on your scalp could indicate a yeast infection.
Your healthcare provider may need to test a sample of the infected area. They’ll use a tongue depressor or scalpel to gently scrape some of the skin off your scalp. A laboratory technician will look at the sample under a microscope. They may place the sample in a culture. A culture lets the sample to grow so the type of fungus can be determined.
Management and Treatment
How is a scalp yeast infection treated?
Treatment for your scalp yeast infection may include an antifungal medication. Your healthcare provider may recommend an antifungal shampoo, foam or ointment. You can buy many antifungal medications over-the-counter. Your healthcare provider may prescribe a stronger antifungal option if needed.
It’s important to keep your scalp clean and dry as part of your yeast infection treatment. This can also help prevent a yeast infection on your scalp from returning.
You may be able to get rid of the yeast infection on your scalp with home remedies. Home treatment options haven’t been researched as thoroughly. You should ask your healthcare provider before trying any home treatment remedies. Home treatment options may include:
- Apple cider vinegar.
- Coconut oil.
- Essential oils.
- Tea tree oil shampoo.
How can I prevent a scalp yeast infection?
You can prevent scalp yeast infections by practicing good hygiene. Keep your scalp clean and dry. In addition:
- Limit your use of antibiotics and steroids (corticosteroids).
- Only wear hats, hoods and scarves when necessary.
- Eat a healthy diet, limiting sugars, starches and alcohol.
Outlook / Prognosis
What can I expect if I have a scalp yeast infection?
Healthy people can typically treat scalp yeast infections with antifungal shampoo, foam or ointment. Scalp yeast infections sometimes get better on their own. You can use home remedies and keep your scalp clean and dry.
How long does a scalp yeast infection last?
Your scalp yeast infection may start to clear up within two weeks of beginning an antifungal treatment. Some scalp yeast infections may take longer — up to two months — to go away.
What complications can occur due to a scalp yeast infection?
With treatment, scalp yeast infections usually go away quickly. But if left untreated, a scalp yeast infection can cause
- A collection of dead, flaky skin.
- Damaged hair follicles.
- Hair loss.
Untreated candidiasis can cause serious medical complications if it spreads to other parts of your body. It can affect your bones, organs, digestive system, bloodstream, eyes and mouth.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
A scalp yeast infection can be itchy and unbearable. But the good news is that it’s easy to treat with antifungal medication such as shampoos, foams and ointments. You can prevent scalp yeast infections by practicing good head hygiene and keeping your scalp clean and dry. If you have itchy patches on your scalp, call your healthcare provider. They’ll be able to determine if you have a scalp yeast infection. They can recommend an appropriate treatment option for you. You’ll be back to feeling better soon.
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