Symptoms A-Z

What Causes Hard Scalp Bumps & When to See a Doctor

Hard bumps on the scalp usually occur due to skin infections,. Common skin infections for this condition include infected hair follicles, cysts on the scalp, or pimples on the scalp. Bumps on the scalp are also caused by traumatic injury or abnormal cell growth. Read below for more information on associated symptoms, other causes, and treatment options.

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Hard Bumps on the Scalp Explained

You may have noticed a new bump on your scalp when you were combing, brushing or washing your hair. A new bump can be alarming. The good news is that there are many potential causes for hard scalp bumps, and while most causes are not serious and are easily treatable, some may require medication and/or evaluation by a medical professional.

Common characteristics of hard scalp bumps

Depending on their cause, hard scalp bumps may be:

  • Large or small
  • Soft or firm
  • Single or multiple
  • Mobile: This means it moves when you touch or press it.
  • Fixed: This means it feels stuck in its location.
  • Tender or not tender
  • Itchy or not itchy

Common accompanying symptoms of hard scalp bumps

Scalp bumps can also be associated with:

Duration of symptoms

The length of time that you may experience a hard scalp bump can vary.

  • Temporary: Depending on the cause, a scalp bump may last for only a few days before resolving on its own or you may notice it persist for a week or more.
  • Persistent: You may notice that a scalp bump that is persistent seems to grow over time as well.
  • How to monitor: When monitoring your scalp bump, keep track of its size and color and any associated symptoms.

Are painful scalp bumps serious?

Hard scalp bumps can be considered harmless or need to be evaluated based on the following.

  • Not serious: A small scalp bump that resolves on its own is typically not serious.
  • Moderately serious: A large scalp bump that is associated with redness or pain that does not seem to be resolving should be seen by a medical professional, especially if you also have a fever.
  • Serious: Scalp bumps that are growing and feel fixed should be evaluated by a medical professional.

What Causes Hard Bumps on the Scalp?

There are many potential causes for hard scalp bumps. Typically, they are due to certain skin conditions but less commonly, scalp bumps can be a symptom of abnormal growths. How serious the scalp bump is dependent on the cause.

Infectious causes

Skin infections or those within the body by due to bacteria, viruses or fungi can cause a hard scalp bump [1].

  • Bacterial skin infections: Your scalp is covered in hair follicles, tiny sacs from which each strand of hair grows. Sometimes a hair follicle can become infected by bacteria which leads to something called folliculitis [2]. An open cut if exposed can also become infected leading to something called cellulitis, an infection of the skin and area under the skin [3]. A skin infection that isn’t cleared up can lead to an abscess which is a pocket of pus that forms as your body tries to fight the infection [4].
  • Viral skin infections: Viruses can also cause small scalp bumps in the form of skin-colored warts.
  • Fungal skin infections: Fungi can cause a variety of scalp infections including ringworm which causes an itchy, red circular rash [5].
  • Lymph node enlargement: Lymph nodes are small glands where the cells that fight infections live. In reacting to infection caused by bacteria, fungi or viruses in and around the scalp, lymph nodes can grow in size and appear as single or multiple bumps in your scalp.

Traumatic causes

Scalp bumps may also be caused by injury to your scalp. You may have bumped your head and noticed a swelling or “knot” form afterward. This knot is formed by blood or fluid collecting under the skin of your scalp and can be associated with bruising and tenderness.

Abnormal cell growth

Sometimes a scalp bump can be caused by abnormal growth of a variety of different cells that make up your body. These can include:

  • Fat cells: These can grow into bumps called lipomas.
  • Pigment-containing cells: These are called melanocytes and can form into a melanoma [6].
  • Basal cells: These are skin stem cells that can morph into basal cell carcinoma [7].
  • Keratin collections: Scalp bumps can also be caused by a collection of keratin, the main protein in your skin, which can lead to cysts [8].

4 Possible Hard Scalp Bump Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced hard scalp bump. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Skin cyst

A cyst is a small sac or lump, filled with fluid, air, fat, or other material, that begins to grow somewhere in the body for no apparent reason. A skin cyst is one that forms just beneath the skin.

It's believed that skin cysts form around trapped keratin cells – the cells that form the relatively tough outer layer of the skin.

These cysts are not contagious.

Anyone can get a skin cyst, but they are most common in those who are over age 18, have acne, or have injured the skin.

Symptoms include the appearance of a small, rounded lump under the skin. Cysts are normally painless unless infected, when they will be reddened and sore and contain pus.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination. A small cyst can be left alone, though if it is unsightly or large enough to interfere with movement it can be removed in a simple procedure done in a doctor's office. An infected cyst must be treated so that the infection does not spread.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: skin-colored armpit bump, marble sized armpit lump, small armpit lump

Symptoms that always occur with skin cyst: skin-colored armpit bump

Urgency: Wait and watch

Wart

Warts, also called common warts or verrucae, are small, rough, rounded growths on the top layer of the skin. They may appear alone or in clusters. Common warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) and are contagious through direct contact. They may spread from one place on the body to another simply through touch.

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Lipoma

Lipoma is a word that translates as "fatty tumor," but a lipoma is not cancer. It is simply a growth of fat between the muscle layer and the skin above it.

The exact cause is not known. The condition does run in families and is associated with other unusual syndromes such as adiposis dolorosa, which is similar. Lipomas most often appear after age 40.

Symptoms include a soft, easily moveable lump beneath the skin, about two inches across. A lipoma is painless unless its growth is irritating the nerves around it. They are most often found on the back, neck, and abdomen, and sometimes the arms and upper legs.

It is a good idea to have any new or unusual growth checked by a medical provider, just to make certain it is benign.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination, biopsy, and imaging such as ultrasound or CT scan.

Most of the time, treatment is not necessary unless the lipoma is unsightly or is interfering with other structures. It can be removed through surgery or liposuction.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: skin-colored groin bump, marble sized groin lump, small groin lump

Symptoms that always occur with lipoma: skin-colored groin bump

Urgency: Wait and watch

Skin abscess

A skin abscess is a large pocket of pus that has formed just beneath the skin. It is caused by bacteria getting under the skin, usually through a small cut or scratch, and beginning to multiply. The body fights the invasion with white blood cells, which kill some of the infected tissue but form pus within the cavity that remains.

Symptoms include a large, red, swollen, painful lump of pus anywhere on the body beneath the skin. There may be fever, chills, and body aches from the infection.

If not treated, there is the risk of an abscess enlarging, spreading, and causing serious illness.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination.

A small abscess may heal on its own, through the body's immune system. But some will need to be drained or lanced in a medical provider's office so that the pus can be cleaned out. Antibiotics are usually prescribed.

Keeping the skin clean, and using only clean clothes and towels, will help to make sure that the abscess does not recur.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: rash with bumps or blisters, red rash, red skin bump larger than 1/2 cm in diameter, pus-filled rash, rash

Symptoms that always occur with skin abscess: rash with bumps or blisters

Urgency: Primary care doctor

When and How to Treat Hard Lumps on the Scalp

Treatments for hard scalp bumps can begin at home as long as symptoms are not severe. However, you should consult your physician for further medical treatments if symptoms persist.

At-home treatment

There are certain at-home remedies you can try to alleviate symptoms of hard scalp bumps.

  • Warm and cold compresses: These can help reduce pain and swelling if your scalp bump is due to infection or trauma
  • Over-the-counter medications: NSAID pain medications ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or aspirin can help reduce pain, swelling, and redness because they work by reducing inflammation in your body. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) can also help with pain and fever but does not treat swelling and redness.
  • Fluid intake: If your scalp bump is due to an infectious cause, increasing your fluid intake is critical in order to stay hydrated and keep your body strong enough to fight the infection, especially if you also have a fever.

When to see a doctor

While some scalp bumps can be treated with at-home remedies, some require evaluation by a medical professional, especially if you notice any of the following:

Medical treatments

If more conservative measures are ineffective, there are some treatments that can be completed by your medical provider, such as:

  • Incision and drainage: If your scalp bump is caused by an infection that has led to a collection of pus under your skin, a medical professional may need to cut a small hole (incision) in the skin overlying the bump in order to drain the pus collection.
  • Antibiotics or antifungals: You may also be prescribed an antibiotic or antifungal in pill or cream/ointment form in order to fight the infection if the scalp bump is due to a bacterial or fungal cause.
  • Surgery: If the scalp bump is caused by an abnormal growth of cells, a physician may recommend surgery to remove the bump to assess what kind of cells are causing the growth and whether the growth is cancerous or not. Sometimes this surgery happens after a biopsy during which a small sample of the bump is cut out and a pathologist looks at the sample under a microscope to determine whether the abnormal cells are cancerous or at risk of becoming cancerous.

FAQs About Hard Scalp Bump

Why is my scalp bump painful?

The pain you’re feeling depends on the cause of the scalp bump. Scalp bumps caused by infection may be painful because the body’s immune response is reacting to the infection, and one of the symptoms of this reaction is pain to alert you that something is wrong.

When is pain considered serious after bumping my head?

If your scalp bump is due to trauma, such as bumping your head, the pain you’re feeling is most likely the aftermath of the damage to the area in and around the bump. If your pain doesn’t get any better or gets worse, seek the attention of a medical provider. If your scalp bump appears after trauma and is associated with severe pain or a headache, you should be immediately evaluated by a medical professional.

Will my scalp bump go away on its own?

It depends. If your scalp bump is due to abnormal cell growth, it might stay the same, grow, or shrink. If it is caused by infection, it might go away on its own as your body fights the infection or might go away with some over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication like Advil or Motrin.

Do scalp abscesses ever resolve on their own?

If your scalp bump is caused by infection and has caused a collection of pus (an abscess) to form, it might go away, but typically this requires draining by a medical professional. Any bump that persists or grows over time should be seen by a medical provider.

Why is my scalp bump growing?

Your scalp bump may be growing due to fluid or blood collecting in and around the area of the bump. If your scalp bump is due to trauma, you can often get swelling around the injured area, but this swelling should decrease over time. A scalp bump due to infection may grow as pus collects in the bump under the skin or as lymph nodes enlarge in reaction to the infection. A scalp bump can also grow if abnormal cells or protein (like keratin) are building up. These cells can either be cancerous or non-cancerous. A scalp bump that is growing rapidly in size, persistently grows, or is associated with a change in color or shape should be medically evaluated.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Hard Scalp Bump

To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask the following questions:

  • What color is the bump?
  • Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Are you experiencing a headache?
  • Do you feel pain when you touch the bump?

The above questions are also covered by our A.I. Health Assistant.

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions

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Hard Scalp Bump Symptom Checker Statistics

People who have experienced hard scalp bump have also experienced:

  • 14% Headache
  • 8% Scalp Bump
  • 7% Painful Scalp Bump

People who have experienced hard scalp bump were most often matched with:

  • 100% Wart

People who have experienced hard scalp bump had symptoms persist for:

  • 43% Over a month
  • 27% Less than a week
  • 13% Less than a day

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

Hard Scalp Bump Symptom Checker

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References

  1. Skin and soft tissue infections. American Family Physician. 2015;92(6):online. AAFP Link
  2. Folliculitis and carbuncles. Massachusetts General Hospital. Massachusetts General Hospital Link
  3. Cellulitis. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Updated August 30, 2016. MedlinePlus Link
  4. Abscess. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Updated May 2, 2016. MedlinePlus Link
  5. Ringworm. American Academy of Dermatology. AAD Link
  6. Melanoma. American Academy of Dermatology. AAD Link
  7. Basal cell carcinoma. American Academy of Dermatology. AAD Link
  8. Cysts. American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. AOCD Link

Disclaimer: The article does not replace an evaluation by a physician. Information on this page is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.