Scalp Swelling Causes and Best Treatments

One should visit a doctor immediately you notice any type of swelling on the scalp. Scalp swelling can be caused by different reasons although most symptoms stem from injury. Proper medication needs to be given to avoid permanent damage.

The following are some of the reasons that could cause scalp swelling and their treatment options.

Allergic reactions to stings and bites from insects

Insect or bug stings from bees, wasps, hornets, fire ants and yellow jacket can trigger allergic reactions. Very few people are allergic to insect stings and to most people, the sting reaction will just be normal.

Head injuries can cause a swollen scalp
Head injuries can cause a swollen scalp


How severe an insect sting reaction is, varies in different people. The WebMD categorizes these reactions into three:

  • A normal reaction which results in pain, redness and swelling around the area stung.
  • A localized reaction where the swelling extends beyond the sting site. For example, if you get stung on the hand, the whole hand swells. This is a normal reaction.
  • A systemic allergic reaction is serious and is referred to as anaphylaxis. This kind of reaction requires medical attention immediately. It’s a severe allergic reaction that causes swelling of the face, lips, throat and/ or tongue. It also causes difficulty breathing, hives, wheezing, rapid pulse and dizziness. The allergic reaction can cause cardiac arrest, shock and unconsciousness in a span of 10 minutes or even less, after the sting.

Treatment Options

For a normal or localized reaction, the first thing to do is remove the stinger to avoid more venom getting into your system. Use a fingernail or any object with a stiff edge (a credit card can do) to scrape off the sac of venom and the stinger. Please do not try to squeeze the venom sac or pull the stinger since this will only release more venom into your skin.

Wash the area well with water and soap and after drying it, apply an antiseptic for the swelling. Apply a cold compress onto the area then elevate it so that it’s above your heart level. This helps decrease swelling.

To reduce swelling, itching, and the hives, use an over the counter antihistamine. Antihistamines cause drowsiness so don’t operate machinery or drive. It should not be given to pregnant mothers or kids below 2 years either.

Ibuprofen can be taken to relieve pain.

For an anaphylactic reaction, use epinephrine (adrenaline). This can be given by a doctor or self-injected and it helps stop the severe reaction from developing.  Sometimes the doctor will use other treatments including intravenous fluids or oxygen. You may be forced to stay overnight at the hospital for observation after stabilization.

If you know you have severe allergic reactions, always carry the epinephrine injector with you wherever you go. Seek medical attention after the injection immediately.

Goose egg injuries

This is due to child hood falls or head blow injuries to the scalp. The scalp has a rich supply of blood vessels and any injury, no matter how minor, causes it to bleed a lot. These veins can sometimes leak blood or fluid under or into the scalp resulting into a goose egg or swelling on the head.

Treatment Options

Kids Health advises the parent to call the doctor if the child:

  • loses consciousness
  • won’t stop crying
  • complains of neck and head pains for old children or is fussy for young ones
  • vomits severally
  • fails to wake up easily
  • stops talking or walking normally.

If the kid is not an infant and is alert even after the blow or fall,

  • Apply a cold compress to the area injured for 20 minutes after every 4 hours. In case you decide to use an ice pack, make sure you wrap it using either a sock or washcloth. If you apply the ice directly, you may injure their skin.
  • Monitor your child and if you notice any weird signs as mentioned above, visit a doctor.
  • If the child falls while close to naptime or bedtime, and they sleep, check on them regularly.


A build-up of fluid in the body tissues causes swelling which is referred to as edema.

The lymph fluid helps in the bathing of all body cells. In normal conditions, the lymph system will remove extra fluid and help return it to the bloodstream. If it’s damaged, the lymph system will not remove the liquid forcing a build-up that causes swelling. This swelling can appear on the head, neck, face, legs, trunk or arms.

Primary edema occurs when the lymph system problem is present at birth. The swelling will occur either at birth or later in life and mostly affects women.

Secondary edema is caused by injuries to the lymph system. This could be after surgery, injury, chronic vein problems, obesity, radiation treatment, scarring or repeat infections. Cancer patients have a higher edema risk especially if they have their lymph nodes radiated or removed. Edema may occur immediately after cancer therapy or much later in life.

Treatment Options

The therapist will use the complete Decongestive Therapy treatment that helps reduce swelling in the head and neck. Treatment can include:

  • Compression bandages that help reduce swelling, prevent fluid buildup and soften hard tissue.
  • Exercises that assist the lymph system work much better. They also help to move the fluids out of areas that are swollen. They include stretching, posture improvement and motion exercises.
  • Skin care that helps prevent the skin from infections.
  • Manual lymphatic drainage. This can also include a gentle massage treatment for affected areas. It helps the fluids move from areas damaged to other healthy areas where the lymph system is working perfectly.
  • Scar massage that helps release any tight skin tissue.
  • The doctor can also create a home cream program for you that includes some or all of the above treatments. This will be convenient since it will meet your body’s specific needs.

Caput Succedaneum and Cephalohematoma

Caput Succedaneum is swelling of the head that occurs during delivery due to pressure on the head. Bruising can also be available although the swelling is not because of blood in the scalp. If the baby is born face first, the bruising and swelling will also be on the face.

The swelling does go away after some days and molding, which is when the head takes up a pointed appearance, will be noticed. An infant’s skull has many bones that fuse eventually to become one. Sutures are where these pieces of bone meet. If the skull experiences high pressure during birth, the bones may overlap at this point causing the unusual pointed look of the baby’s head. This molding takes several days to clear up.


Cephalohematoma happens when blood that’s collected from broken blood vessels builds up under the scalp.  Note that it doesn’t happen in the brain. This forms a bump on the side of the infant’s head. This lump can be seen towards the side or back of the head. The lump is caused by pressure exerted on the skull while delivering.  Sometimes, if forceps are used during delivery, they can cause a lump too.  Most of the time the infant will have no bruising. The lump can be seen few hours after delivery and could take some weeks or even months to go away.

Treatment Options

No treatment is needed in most cases since the caput succedaneum clears after some days. In case of cephalohematoma, the doctor can have an x-ray or other test done if he suspects a skull fracture. if the fracture is sunken, then additional treatment will be needed otherwise, most of the fractures heal on their own.

Jaundice is one of the minor complications associated with this and if severe, light therapy will be needed.

If the infant is in pain due to the swelling, paracetamol can be given at a correct dose.

If the bruising causes concern for example if its excessive or widespread, the infant should be given postnatal vitamin K and the clotting screen and blood picture taken


  • A Practical Guide to Managing Pediatric Problems on the Postnatal Wards edited by Christopher Flannigan

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