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Anxiety and Stress Disorders

How Can I Stop Scratching my Head?

07/17/2008

Question:

Well, for atleast two years, I have developed an increasingly compulsive and unhealthy habit of scratching my scalp. My parents say "Just stop scratching your head!" It`s not that simple... easier said than done. I`ve been seeing a physchiatrist who has prescribed paxil for anxiety. It helps with worrying and excessive thought over the same worry, but I still can`t stop my hands from scratching my head. It has gotten much worse lately. There are red sores that bleed if I scratch them too much on the side of my face just after the hairline. On my scalp there is an awful sore that I really need to stop picking, because it hurts and I don`t think it has any hair growing from it anymore. I really don`t know what to do.

Answer:

I'm going to assume that you are younger (20's-30's) and that you have no dermatological issues as identified by a dermatologist/ other physician. These symptoms that you describe are consistent with an anxiety disorder within the obsessive compulsive disorder family. Raising the dose of paroxetine or changing to a different serotonin antidepressant can sometimes be helpful. Psychotherapy (specifically behavioral therapy) is frequently a reasonable adjunctive treatment to the paroxetine as well and can be helpful. Other adjunctive medications can at times be useful and should be discussed with your psychiatrist.

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Response by:

Nicholas A Votolato, RPh BCPP Nicholas A Votolato, RPh BCPP
Assistant Professor of Pharmacy
College of Pharmacy
Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, Emeritus
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University