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On Call: Kiddie Dandruff

Q. When I brush my child's hair, flakes fall out. Her scalp is dry and has yellow patches on it, too. What's going on?

Your daughter probably has seborrheic dermatitis  -- also known as dandruff in adults and cradle cap in infants. This condition runs in families and tends to occur where the skin gets oily, like on the scalp, eyebrows, and eyelids and in folds of the skin. It's not contagious or dangerous, although it can be itchy.

You should give your doctor a call, though, to rule out tinea capitis, a common fungal infection that can also cause scaly yellow patches but is easily treated with an oral medication.

If your doctor agrees that she has a version of cradle cap, buy some over-the-counter dandruff shampoo and give your daughter's head a gentle, thorough scrubbing every day. Leave the shampoo in for five minutes, making sure to keep the suds out of her eyes, and rinse well. Then use a soft brush or fine comb to work off any loose scales.

If things don't improve within a couple of weeks, check back with your doctor. A prescription lotion or cream, or a trip to the dermatologist, may be the next step.