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Anxiety and Stress Disorders

Unerstanding Nervous Habits

11/28/2007

Question:

I have gotten into a terrible habit of scratching my scalp. It results in a lot of dandruff, and sometimes little scabs. Is this a common nervous habit? Can this result in hair loss? How can it be stopped?

Answer:

Before you assume this is just a "nervous habit," be sure to see your physician to make sure you don't have a scalp condition like seborrhea or a fungal infection.  If your scalp is normal, then you might have developed "a nervous habit."

Many of us have nervous habits, and they have been discussed in this space before.  It is possible to change habits, but it takes some discipline and some work on behavior modification.  Occasionally what a person has is not just a simple nervous habit, but a compulsion, which is more serious and usually needs treatment by a mental health professional.  The difference is one of "anxiety."  With compulsions, if a person doesn't do the action (in your case, scratch and pick at the scalp), then he or she feels quite anxious and upset -- doing the action relieves the bad feelings.  With a nervous habit, these feelings are not usually present, or are very mild.

It is unlikely to cause actual hair loss unless you are actually pulling out the hair.

I encourage you to first begin with a visit to your primary care doctor to assess both your scalp and whether you may have an anxiety disorder.

Good Luck.

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Response by:

Nancy   Elder, MD Nancy Elder, MD
Associate Professor
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati