Scratch Where It Itches

“But it itches!”

This is often Nigel’s refrain (spoken between clenched teeth) when I discreetly remind him to stop scratching his head. And no, he doesn’t have dandruff. Nor does he have lice, scabies, or any other type of external cause of itching.

The head itching started about a year and a half ago, before he began taking either of his two daily medications. Interestingly, it also started right around the same time that the “adjustments” started. By that I mean the “situating” of certain appendages that seem to become jostled throughout the day. Not having the same certain appendages myself, I’m unable to identify with the need for their frequent “adjustments.” Fortunately, my son’s hand remains outside of his clothing when he makes these “adjustments,” but I often have to remind him to go to a bathroom to do it, especially when we’re out in public. Same with the head-scratching.

“People don’t like to see other people scratching their heads for long periods of time,” I tell my son. “It’s not socially acceptable. When people see someone scratching endlessly, they think they have lice or some type of skin disease. A quick, occasional scratch is okay,” – and here, I demonstrate a discreet scratch –  ”but not a lengthy, ‘Bare-Necessities’-type of scratch-fest.”

“But it won’t stop itching!”

Initially I thought that he might have been allergic to the shampoo he had been using, so we switched to a chemical-free, organic shampoo. Then a different one. Then T-Gel. Then we tried various ointments and creams. Heck, we even tried saturating his scalp with organic olive oil for 20 minutes prior to washing his hair, since I had read somewhere that it was a good remedy for itchy scalps. Nothing has worked. Nothing.

I considered the possibility of a food allergy causing his scalp to itch, but his diet hasn’t changed that much in the past year and a half since the itching started. We already tried the GF/CF diet, but Nigel has never exhibited the gut and digestive issues present with GF/CF allergies, nor did he show any signs of improvement when we tried the diet. It could be something not GF/CF-related, but since his daily diet has not changed much, I have no idea what it could be.

One thing’s certain – the itching started right about the time I realized that he was into puberty. So it could be a result of the hormonal changes he’s experiencing. If that’s the case, how long before his body adjusts? How long before his scalp normalizes and the itching goes away? I had learned last year at the Autism and Puberty seminar that I attended that people with autism are prone to Candida, a type of fungus, which can cause itching. However, that is usually accompanied by gastrointestinal issues and other symptoms. Yet again, I am at a loss for the cause of the itching of Nigel’s scalp.

So I’ll just blame puberty. It’s responsible for many other problems we experience around here. And since the average time span of puberty for boys is six years, we’ve got a few more years of rampant scalp-itching to contend with. Any ideas out there other than Baloo’s tree method? Please?

20 thoughts on “Scratch Where It Itches

  1. Carol

    No advice, sorry, but J has done this off and on a good part of his life. Just when I thought I’d tear MY hair, it stopped. But it always picked up again; never in the same place (Come to think of it, he hasn’t done this for a LONG time. . .Maybe because he’s a little older?)! Also self-abusive ticks–he used to bite off a large amount of skin around his toenails. I’m amazed they didn’t get infected! He STILL bites his fingernails and toenails – I can’t get him to leave them alone, so I can trim them!

  2. goodfountain

    Ha! I can totally relate to Nigel. And I’m not a male teen in the throes of puberty.

    I have an itchy scalp too! No signs of dandruff (no flakes) and no other skin conditions. If I scratch a lot, it will create flakes, but if I leave it alone and just hardly scratch -no flakes. So that’s why I say it’s not dandruff.

    Here’s what seems to keep it to a minimum – frequent, and I mean frequent, shampoo rotations. Like daily. I rotate thru 3 different shampoos at any given time – never repeating 2 times in a row. If I use the same shampoo 2x in a row -I will notice more itching. So I use a different one every day.

    Occasionally, like once every few weeks, I use a dandruff shampoo – but honestly it makes no difference. There was a time when Nizoral did help. But it no longer “cures” it. I think that’s b/c it’s not dandruff.

    Hairdressers tell me it’s hormonal – pregnancy and nursing over the last 5 years – so I can see that it might be hormonal with Nigel too.

    It hasn’t been going on 5 years with me though – maybe about 2.

    The shampoos that I rotate – once I finish a bottle – I don’t buy it again for a long time. I use one “natural” shampoo (e.g. Burt’s Bees, California Baby), one “salon brand” (e.g. Biolage) and then a cheapy brand (Pantene, Aussie, etc.). Every now and then I’ll use Johnson’s Baby Shampoo, since we have it, just for kicks.

    The rotating really does seem to help. I have no theory as to why – but it does something.

    Nigel has my sympathy. There is nothing worse that wanting to scratch your head.

  3. Kate

    Hope it gets better, no ideas, except could it be a sensory thing, the need to scratch to get certain stimulation?

  4. Chapati

    Could it be excema? My friend had excema on her head, and it causes a lot of itching and dryness. Could try medicated shampoo.

  5. Fearless Females

    Perhaps a side effect of his meds. My brother had to change his meds (he has ADHD) and when he did, he started scratching his head a lot.

    otherwise, could it be just a nervous phase or a stim…

  6. Carrie

    WHO knows? And my favorite follow-up question, who really cares? It just does. You’re doing everything you can to help him be socially acceptable about it, and that’s really all you can do!

  7. Paulene Angela

    My son (16 yrs.) passed this stage of scratching his head. At first I looked for those jumpy little things, yuk, fortunately no sign. Later I thought it was perhaps linked to a nervous condition like excema, but there was no sign of any skin irritation.

    However a few weeks after the sratching had started I noticed four or five small dry patches appearing. Still no idea of the original cause. Well, fortunately my husband had just purchased some very expensive Aloe Vera gel, I was not impressed with the price he paid. Guess what it turned out to be our rescue remedy. (yes I have apologised for giving him ear ache).

    Three weeks of dabbing a bit here and there, several times during the course of the day, the itching has now stopped and there is no sign of skin irritation.

    We are now three months down the line and fingers crossed no re-appearance !

    All the Best finding your solution.

  8. Sheri

    Not itchies here…adjusting appendages is constant, however. We also recommend that being done in private to B so rather than using a hand to adjust now he stands there and wiggles his hips trying to make the adjustment without touching….it’s rather humorous and, he’s following the rules, he’s not touching.

  9. Nicki

    Ugh, that must be torturous to try not to scratch when it itches that bad! I know there are lotions for itchy skin, like Eucerin Calming Cream. I wonder if there are any sorts of conditioners or shampoos for itchy scalps! (Or he could just shave his head bald and use Eucerin!)

  10. Tanya Savko Post author

    Everyone, thanks so much for your ideas! Surely something in this helpful list will offer some relief! I’ll let you know how things go.

  11. Bonnie Sayers

    Nick has been scratching his scalp, but just had a haircut and I think that might be the culprit. You guys tried a lot of various techniques. I have an Rx for eczema on the scalp, has he ever been tested for dermatitis of the scalp. Scalpicin works well to stop the itch.

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  13. Jeanne Myers

    Thanks for the info on the hygiene of teens with autism. My 15 year old nephew scratches his head alot as well, even when he’s had a haircut. I thought about the eczema things as well since he does have certain skin conditions, but will try the Scalpicin as well.

  14. mom2potterboy92

    you know my son is doing it now but reading I think back and we have allways had “”fleas”" lol he its been a joke even with us to stop scratching your fleas:) I rember we had 4 cats and a dog and we got a bad case of fleas and all he had heard us tallk about was the cat was scracting becasue of fleas so when he was in school and scrating his head he told the teacher that he had fleas he was about 7 and i got a note home my son was checked for lice so there is always some humor with are children!
    mikie is 17 going on 18 and i still see him scratch for all diffrent reasons and havent yet been able to pin it to jsut one because as soon as i think i have he stops for a while and it starts again from another stressor in his life.

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  16. Leanne

    When my son entered puberty, he started scratching his head until the skin was flaking off and his scalp was bloody! Several trips to his MD ruled out lice, ringworm, and other possibilities. We tried various shampoos, ointments, vitamins, and herbal cures. One day, we happened to see a different MD, who said he had a bacterial infection. She put him on a single course of antibiotics and POOF the scalp itch disappeared!

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