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Understanding Dandruff - the Basics

 But it can be a source of embarrassment, and the itchiness that may come with it is a genuine nuisance

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What Is Dandruff?

Dandruff - those dry, white flakes of skin you constantly find yourself brushing off your collar or shoulders - typically poses no health risk whatsoever. But it can be a source of embarrassment, and the itchiness that may come with it is a genuine nuisance. Many people incorrectly assume that the problem has something to do with hygiene and how often you wash your hair. Although it's true that shampooing infrequently can aggravate an existing case of dandruff, it will not bring one on. What actually lies behind dandruff is a simple difference between people in a natural process we all undergo every day: shedding skin cells. The difference is that some of us shed more than others.

Skin cells that grow and die off too fast are the cause of dandruff, but doctors do not know why this happens.  One possible cause is a fat-eating fungus called Pityrosporum ovale, which is present in most people but to excess in dandruff sufferers.  This fungus lives on the scalp of most healthy adults without causing any problems.  Sometimes its numbers grow out of control and it feeds on the oil made by hair follicles.  This causes irritation, which leads to an increase in skin cell shedding. 

This abundance of fungus in some can be due use of alkaline soaps, infrequent shampooing, hormonal fluctuations, certain neurological disorders like Parkinson's, a weakened immune system, and stress. Even the season of the year can contribute to the problem: Cold, dry winters are notorious for bringing on dandruff or making it worse.

If dandruff flakes are greasy and yellow, the probable cause is the skin condition known as seborrhea dermatitis; seborrhea is usually associated with redness as well. Dry, thick lesions consisting of large, silvery scales may be traced to the less-common psoriasis of the scalp. These scaly conditions become a hazard only if you scratch to the point of causing breaks in the skin, which can place you at greater risk for infections, particularly from staph and strep bacteria.

Cradle Cap - Topic Overview

What is cradle cap?

Cradle cap is an oily, yellow scaling or crusting on a baby's scalp. It is common in babies and is easily treated. Cradle cap is not a part of any illness and does not imply that a baby is not being well cared for.

What causes cradle cap?

Cradle cap is the normal buildup of sticky skin oils, scales, and sloughed skin cells.

How is it treated?

Home treatment is usually all that is needed for cradle cap.

An hour before shampooing, rub your baby's scalp with baby oil, mineral oil, or petroleum jelly to help lift the crusts and loosen scales.

When ready to shampoo, first get the scalp wet, then gently scrub the scalp with a soft-bristle brush (a soft toothbrush works well) for a few minutes to remove the scales. You can also try gently removing the scales with a fine-tooth comb.

Then wash the scalp with baby shampoo, rinse well, and gently towel dry.

When should I call a health professional?

If the above measures do not work, talk to your health professional before using a dandruff shampoo, such as Selsun Blue, Head and Shoulders, or Sebulex. If these products get in your baby's eyes, they can cause irritation. Your health professional may prescribe other medications.

Cradle cap is not harmful to your baby. It usually goes away by a baby's first birthday.

What Are the Symptoms of Roseola?

In most cases, a child with roseola develops a mild upper-respiratory illness, followed by a high fever (often higher than 103 degrees Fahrenheit) for three to seven days. The child may be fussy or irritable during this time, may have a weak appetite, and may have swollen glands (lymph nodes) in the neck.

In many cases, the high fever abruptly stops and a rash appears on the child's body at about the same time. The rash is made up of flat or raised pinkish-red spots and appears on the torso. The spots turn white when touched. Individual spots may have lighter areas or "halos" around them. Usually, the rash spreads to the face, legs, arms and neck.