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What Are the Common Causes of Pus on the Scalp?

A. Pasbjerg
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A variety of conditions can lead to the development of pus on the scalp. One of the most common causes is folliculitis, where bacteria builds up in the hair follicles on the scalp, leading to infections that can range from mild, acne-like spots to deep, painful boils. Pus frequently develops in cases of ringworm, a fungal infection of the scalp that often affects children. It can also be the result of a condition called dissecting cellulitis, where large, non-infected pustules form under the skin of the scalp, damaging the follicles and typically causing hair loss.

Pus on the scalp is often caused by folliculitis. This condition, which is basically a bacterial infection of the follicles, can occur in a number of ways, including damage to the follicles from excessive pulling or irritation, buildup of perspiration on the scalp, or overexposure to hot or humid environments like saunas or hot tubs. For some people, the infections are mild and only affect the upper layers of skin, causing small, white pustules that resemble pimples. Others may develop more severe, deeper infections that can turn into hard, painful boils which require medical attention to prevent follicle destruction and scarring.

Another issue that often leads to pus on the scalp is ringworm, also known as tinea capitis. Ringworm is a highly contagious fungal infection that commonly occurs in children. It initially causes a flaking, itchy rash, but as the disease progresses, affected people may also have an allergic reaction to the fungus that causes swollen, pus-filled blisters to form in the area. These lesions may ooze and become infected, and if left untreated may eventually cause scarring and hair loss. Ringworm can often be successfully treated early on without a doctor's intervention using good hygiene and over-the-counter antifungal medications, but cases that do not clear easily or show signs of more severe infection often require prescription medication.

Patients with dissecting cellulitis also usually form pus on the scalp. One of the main symptoms of this condition is the formation of pustules under the skin over large areas of the scalp. These initial pockets of pus are typically not due to infection and do not contain bacteria. Over time, however, the condition can damage or destroy the follicles and a secondary bacterial infection may occur. This condition often leads to significant scarring and baldness on large portions of the scalp.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
A. Pasbjerg
By A. Pasbjerg
Andrea Pasbjerg, a The Health Board contributor, holds an MBA from West Chester University of Pennsylvania. Her business background helps her to create content that is both informative and practical, providing readers with valuable insights and strategies for success in the business world.

Discussion Comments

By fify — On Dec 03, 2013

I had this because of a fungal infection when I moved to a tropical climate. The humidity caused a fungal infection on my scalp. I went to a doctor complaining of scalp itching and dandruff. I didn't even know about the pus until the doctor pointed it out to me.

Thankfully, the treatment was easy. I just had to use an anti-fungal shampoo for a week. The infection went away and never returned.

By burcinc — On Dec 02, 2013

@literally45-- It's probably due to oil and dead skin cells. This can occur when the scalp produces excessive oil.

Do you touch your scalp or scratch your scalp frequently? If you do, stop, because you may also be causing small infections that cause pus. Our scalp is not too different from our skin and can get infected. Avoiding touching your scalp and washing your scalp frequently will help.

I'm not a doctor though, so please see your doctor about this. I experienced the same problem when I was young because I would scratch my head when I was stressed. It resolved when I stopped doing that. But your doctor will be able to tell you for sure what's causing the pus and what you can do about it.

By literally45 — On Dec 01, 2013

I frequently find dry scabs of pus on my scalp. I don't have any scalp conditions that I know of. My scalp is otherwise healthy, just oily.

A. Pasbjerg

A. Pasbjerg

Andrea Pasbjerg, a The Health Board contributor, holds an MBA from West Chester University of Pennsylvania. Her business background helps her to create content that is both informative and practical, providing readers with valuable insights and strategies for success in the business world.
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