Characterized by the appearance of raised, scaly red patches on the scalp, Scalp Psoriasis is a chronic skin disorder that cannot be cured completely, but can be managed effectively with the help of medications and treatments. The exact cause of Scalp Psoriasis is not known. In most cases, the condition is said to be caused by an immune system abnormality (the disorder would cause excess growth of new skin cells which would start growing as patches on each other).
In other cases, the condition can run in the family and can be passed down from one generation to the other. Individuals with general psoriasis (on the other parts of the body) can also get scalp psoriasis.
Complications arising from Scalp Psoriasis
Many individuals misinterpret scalp psoriasis to be a mild skin disorder that can be easily controlled. However, the truth is that scalp psoriasis can be mild as well as severe. While mild cases of the condition are characterized by tiny reddish patches on the scalp that are hardly noticeable, severe cases of scalp psoriasis can lead to the formation of multiple skin patches on the scalp.
These patches would b raised and reddish in appearance. In certain cases, an individual suffering from severe scalp psoriasis would also develop thick lesions on the scalp. This would in turn cause intense itching and irritation. The urge to itch the scalp would be too overwhelming for the individual to think about anything else. It would disturb his/her daily activities and would also cause sleep disturbances.
Severe scalp psoriasis can also lead to conditions like hair fall and skin infections, primarily caused due to frequent itching. The disorder can also start off small but quickly spread throughout the scalp. There are also possibilities for the disorder to spread to the forehead, the area behind the ears and the nape of the neck.
Forget the physical complications! Scalp psoriasis can lead to plenty of psychological complications as well. An individual suffering from severe scalp psoriasis would feel embarrassed to go out in public. This could be due to hair fall or the shedding of excess skin cells (skin flakes would fall off the scalp at regular intervals).
The appearance of scaly patches on the forehead, neck and ears can also play a major role in demoralizing him/her. Such individuals would tend to become introverts with time and would choose to remain indoors at all times. Worse yet, they could get obsessed with the disorder and resort to picking the flakes or lesions by hand. This could aggravate the infection and cause it to spread to other parts of the body.
Symptoms of Scalp Psoriasis
While mild cases of scalp psoriasis cause only slight scaling (not noticeable in most cases), mild to severe cases of psoriasis can cause more serious symptoms that are easily visible on the scalp and the areas around it.
Some of these symptoms include an extremely dry scalp, severe hair loss (caused by scratching the affected area), appearance of reddish plaques or white scales (like dandruff), severe itching, soreness and a burning sensation in the affected areas.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Scalp Psoriasis
An individual with any or all of the above symptoms would need to meet a qualified dermatologist to ascertain the best form of treatment for the condition. The dermatologist would perform a few routine tests (including a physical examination and a skin biopsy) to check the level of infection and to overrule other medical ailments like seborrheic dermatitis that may possibly be contributing to the condition.
The most common form of treatment for scalp psoriasis would include topical medications that need to be applied on the affected areas of the scalp. These include medicated oils, shampoos, soaps, creams and ointments. These medications need to be applied directly to the scalp.
They should also be used in accordance with the doctor’s instructions. Individuals using these medications should finish the entire course without stopping in between. It would take at least 8 weeks for the condition to get cleared. Stopping anywhere in between (once the symptoms ease up a bit) would only aggravate the situation.
Medications to treat mild cases of scalp psoriasis would usually contain ingredients like salicylic acid or coal tar, and would be easily available as OTC medicines. Stronger medications used to treat severe cases of scalp psoriasis would have ingredients like salicylic acid, coal tar, calcipotriene (derived from Vitamin C), tazarotene (derived from Vitamin A), anthralin, betamethasone dipropionate and topical steroids. These medications are usually available only with a doctor’s prescription.
After the condition has been controlled (the lesions or patches reduce), the individual would need to use these topical medications at least once in 2 weeks or so to prevent recurrences.
Other forms of Medications to treat Scalp Psoriasis
In cases where topical medications seem to have no effect on scalp psoriasis, the doctor would resort to other forms of medications to treat the condition. These include oral medications like cyclosporine, corticosteroids, methotrexate and derivatives of Vitamin A and D etc.
Oral medications for scalp psoriasis can cause side effects like liver damage. Therefore, they should be used carefully in accordance with the doctor’s prescription. Attempting to increase or decrease the dosage without consulting the doctor first could lead to severe side effects.
Mild to severe cases of scalp psoriasis which do not respond well to topical medications can be treated with injecting or infusing medications called biologics into the body. When injected or infused, these medications would target the immune system and alter it to the extent that it prevents the production of excess skin cells on the scalp.
Alternative Treatment Options for Scalp Psoriasis
Mild and severe cases of scalp psoriasis can also be treated by phototherapy. In this method, a light beam is focused on the affected areas of the scalp to get rid of the lesions. The source used may be a laser light like the Excimer Laser (targets the affected areas of the scalp with a high intensity light beam) or a non laser light like UV (Ultraviolet) light (with the help of a UV comb that targets the entire scalp).
In other cases, the doctor may recommend an individual to stand under the sun for some time to expose the scalp to natural sunlight. This is usually done if the individual has shaved his/her head or has very thin hair.