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Scalp Bumps

Scalp bumps are an unpleasant problem, especially when they’re associated with scalp tenderness and itching. Bumps can appear on the scalp for a variety of reasons. Some of the most common types are discussed below along with their potential treatments.

Common Causes of Bumps on the Scalp


Ringworm or tinia capitis is a scalp infection caused by a tiny fungus called tinea. The signs and symptoms of ringworm include scalp itching, scaling, scalp bumps and patchy areas of hair loss. This scalp condition is more common in children, although adults can be affected too. It can be easily spread from person to person by sharing personal items such as combs, brushes and towels and from contact with infected animals including household pets. A doctor can often make the diagnosis by simply looking at the scalp. If the diagnosis is in question, they may take a sample and send it to the lab to look for the characteristic tinea fungus.


When hair follicles on the scalp become inflamed, it leads to a condition called scalp folliculitis. Folliculitis isn’t unique to the scalp, it can also affect the body, especially in areas that are irritated by tight clothing or traumatized by shaving. Typically, folliculitis causes red scalp bumps that are tender or itchy. The bumps may be filled with a clear or yellow fluid.

This skin and scalp condition is caused by bacteria or fungus. When it involves the scalp, it’s more common in people who don’t wash their hair regularly and those who wear tight hats or constrictive headwear. It’s also more common in the summer when the air is hot and humid. Another special type of folliculitis caused by a bacteria called pseudomonas comes from soaking or swimming in poorly maintained pools, hot tubs or whirlpools.

Seborrheic Dermatitis

No one knows exactly what causes this condition that affects both the skin and the scalp, but it’s linked with a fungus called Malassezia. Seborrheic dermatitis typically causes white or yellow scaly patches on the scalp that are itchy. When people scratch, it causes scalp bumps to appear. This scalp problem is more common in people who have immune deficiency problems or neurological diseases like Parkinson’s disease, although it can affect anyone. There’s also a genetic component since it’s more common in certain families. The symptoms can be aggravated by not shampooing frequently enough, stress, changes in the weather and other illnesses.



Doctors usually treat ringworm with anti-fungal medications. They may also suggest using a medicated shampoo that contains 2.5 percent selenium sulfide. To prevent future problems, shampoo hair and scalp regularly, practice regular hand washing and don’t share combs, brushes or personal items with other people.


Folliculitis of the scalp may respond to topical antibiotic treatment, although some of the bacteria that cause it have become resistant to antibiotic ointments available at the drugstore. Shampooing every other day with a mild shampoo that contains tea tree oil may help since tea tree oil has natural antibacterial properties. In cases that don’t improve with tea tree oil, an anti-fungal shampoo may help. Skin care products that contain benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid may also help the symptoms.

A corticosteroid cream or ointment can help with itching.

Seborrheic Dermatitis

To treat seborrheic dermatitis, shampoo regularly using a shampoo that contains selenium sulfide pyrithone zinc or coal tar. It may also be helpful to use a shampoo that contains tea tree oil. Regular shampooing is important to help loosen and remove the scales. In more severe cases, doctors recommend shampoos that contain the anti-fungal medication ketoconazole. A corticosteroid cream or ointment can help with itching. It may also be helpful to add more omega-3 fats to your diet by taking a fish oil supplement or eating fatty fish such as salmon. These healthy fats reduce inflammation and may improve some skin and scalp conditions. Ask your doctor before doing this.

Other Less Common Causes of Scalp Bumps

Bumps on the scalp can less commonly be a sign of other conditions such as scabies, allergies or an underlying medical problem. If there’s a question as to what’s causing it, see your doctor.

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