Cradle Cap: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment

Cradle Cap For Babies

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Greasy, yellowish scales on your baby’s scalp could be alarming for you! While you may be clueless about what may have led to the condition, the crusty scales appear as circular discs on babies’ heads. It is perhaps for the shape that the condition is called cradle cap or medically called infantile seborrheic dermatitis.

Cradle cap is a mystery in pediatrics. The reasons for the condition are unknown, but the good news is that it is curable. MomJunction brings you information on cradle cap and the effective ways of treating it.

What Is Cradle Cap?

Cradle cap or seborrhea is an accumulation of greasy and scaly patches on an infant’s scalp. The patch can be yellow or red and appear as rashes. The scales are often accompanied by dandruff (1) and may coexist with other skin problems such as eczema.

Age groups affected:

Infants between three weeks and two months are at the highest risk of having cradle cap (2). It often clears once the baby completes the first year (3). Sometimes, the condition can be seen in babies older than 12 months (4). Cradle cap could continue into toddlerhood and has even been observed in three-year-old preschoolers (5) and is common to all skin types.

Duration:

Cradle cap usually goes away within weeks to months of its first appearance, depending on its severity. If it is accompanied by dandruff or eczema, the condition may take longer to cure and may require treatment with medicated shampoo and scalp lotions.

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What Causes Cradle Cap?

Most pediatric experts, including the American Academy of Paediatrics, have a few medical theories that point towards the probable reasons for cradle cap. (6).

  1. Overproduction of sebum: Sebum is the oil produced by the sebaceous glands present in the skin. Certain hormones transferred from the mother to baby in the womb increase the production of sebum (7). This sebum increases the greasiness on the scalp. The hormones subside, as the baby grows and the sebaceous glands return to normal.
  1. Aggregation of dead skin: Babies shed old skin just as adults do. The old dead skin may not fall off and could stick to the oil on the skin surface. Over a period, the accumulation hardens and forms a yellow scaly solidification that leads to cradle cap.
  1. Infection: A bacterial infection of accumulated dead skin can result in scaly growths visible externally as cradle cap. Infection of sebaceous glands by fungus such as yeast is also a cause for seborrhea (8).

Cradle cap may look to be unpleasant, but it is non-itchy, non-contagious, and not a sign of any allergy. It does not indicate poor hygiene and leaves no scars (9). The condition can be better understood by knowing its symptoms.

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What Are The Symptoms Of Cradle Cap?

A baby suffering from cradle cap will show the following symptoms:

  1. Scaly crust on scalp: This is a primary sign of cradle cap. White to yellowish scales appear in circular formations around the head or in one large disc of crusty growth. The crust flakes a lot, sprinkling the baby’s clothes with dead skin. The baby could also have dandruff. In some cases, the scales could turn reddish, but it is nothing to worry about.
  1. Oiliness or dryness on and around cradle cap: The crust appears greasy, and the skin around also feels oily. However, the crust and skin could be completely dry.
  1. Partial hair loss: The infant could lose hair on and around the spot where cradle cap develops. However, the hair loss is temporary.

An infant suffering from mild cradle cap will display the same symptoms with lesser intensity. Cradle cap may evolve to manifest through other symptoms, which often are not normal and require prompt medical attention.

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When To Rush To The Doctor?

If your baby shows the following signs then you must take him to a doctor immediately:

  1. Presence of scales on the face (eyebrows, forehead, cheeks, and ears), armpits, and diaper area: The American Academy of Paediatrics recognizes the presence of cradle cap on said areas as seborrheic dermatitis. However, some experts do not consider it normal for cradle cap to occur anywhere other than the scalp (10) as it could be eczema, and the baby should be checked by a doctor immediately.
  1. Itchiness and irritation in cradle cap: Remember, cradle cap is not itchy, and the baby will appear comfortable. Skin irritation and itchiness are signs of eczema, a condition that may look like cradle cap, but is serious.
  1. Swollen scalp: If the cradle cap swells then it could be an infection in the underlying layers of skin. The swelling is often accompanied by severe hair loss.
  1. Blood or yellowish discharge from cracks in the crust: Babies who already suffer eczema can develop cradle cap complications such as bleeding and yellow fluid discharge from the scales. The serious symptom indicates severe infection and leads to cracks in the skin.

A doctor will look for these symptoms while diagnosing the condition. Treatment is essential.

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How Is Cradle Cap Treated?

Treatment of cradle cap is simple but depends on the severity of the condition. You can administer it at home after pediatric consultation.

1. Have a head wash routine:

Most cases of regular cradle cap are resolved by washing the baby’s scalp properly and regularly. Here is how you must wash the scalp when the infant suffers from cradle cap:

  • Loosen scales with a brush: Use a soft, baby hair brush to comb the infant’s hair gently. Do not use excess pressure while you brush and do not pick the scales to loosen them. It may lead to an infection in the cracks between the scales.
  • Apply oil to the scalp: You can use regular baby hair oil or olive oil. Use a small amount since its purpose is to help bind the flaky scales. Leave the oil for a couple of minutes before brushing the hair again.
  • Wash with baby shampoo: Use a regular baby shampoo to wash the baby’s hair thoroughly. Shampooing and rinsing help remove a lot of scales from the baby’s head thus providing relief from cradle cap.
  • Dry with towel and comb: Dry the scalp by patting a towel and using another brush to comb the infant’s hair.

Maintain different hair brushes for brushing your little one’s hair before and after a wash. You can use specialized cradle cap hair brushes to get better results.

If the cradle cap is accompanied by any other condition, then you may require a particular type of shampoo.

2. Use medicated shampoos as prescribed:

If cradle cap is accompanied by dandruff or fungal infection, then the doctor will prescribe a pediatric anti-fungal or anti-dandruff shampoo. Such shampoos are recommended for use only a few times in a week. For other days, regular baby shampoo can be used. In cases of cradle cap with eczema, use a shampoo only after consulting the doctor.

3. Applying scalp ointments and lotions:

The doctor may prescribe a medicated scalp ointment or lotion after hair wash. You should use the ointment as directed and complete the course of treatment. There is no oral medicine required for cradle cap and topical application of medicated lotions will suffice.

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Periodic washing of the infant’s hair is the best home remedy to prevent cradle cap. Regular shampooing prevents recurrence too. Taking good care of your baby’s scalp would help them be seborrhea-free.

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Rohit Garoo

Rohit Garoo took writing as a profession right after finishing his MBA in Marketing. Earlier he graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Botany & Zoology from the autonomous St. Xavier’s College in Mumbai. Rohit has also done a Stanford University certification course on breastfeeding. This botanist-zoologist turned writer excels at life sciences, and at MomJunction he writes everything about pediatrics and maternal care. In between writing and being overly curious, he spends time cooking, reading, and playing video games. LinkedIn profile – linkedin.com/in/rohit-garoo-263115aa
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