Ever had a sensation of “sore” hair or unexplained burning scalp, tingling or itching to your scalp? Some people who have experienced scalp pain also have hair loss. This has lead to the concept that the two are related. What is not clear is whether a physical mechanism creates the pain or if the pain is related to an anxiety and fear of hair loss?
Hair loss can occur for numerous reasons. Hair grows in three stages: anagen (the growth phase), telogen (a resting phase), and catagen (the actual loss of the hair). Certain types of hair loss are related to events that occur during the telogen phase such as telogen effluvium. (see my article: www.empowher.com/news/herarticle/2009/06/22/stress-and-hair-loss).
A study in 2002 by Willimann and Trueb, found that both men and women report incidents of burning scalp pain or trichodynia; though women reported incidents at a much higher rate. Anxiety related to hair loss was thought to be higher in women, leading researchers to surmise that a gender difference may exist in the perception of pain. Researchers were unable to find a physical cause for the pain but they did postulate that release of a neuropeptide known as substance P may be responsible for the burning and painful scalp sensation. Substance P is involved in pain perception by the nerve endings in skin and other body parts.
Another study in 2003 found that over 30% of people who had either androgenetic alopecia (male pattern baldness) or telogen effluvium hair loss experienced burning scalp pain. They found that 76% of the people who had trichodynia had psychopathic signs versus 20% in the control group leading to the belief that there may be a psychological component to the scalp pain.
Scalp pain and hair loss definitely have an emotional component but women are repeatedly told how their pain problems are all in their head. Any chronic pain problem in time affects a person’s psychological well being. Fortunately, evidence that burning scalp pain has an inflammatory component has been determined in other immune response conditions.