The hair and the scalp can get various diseases. Some are common, which we have described in our blogs, while others are rarely reported. Among a rare disease is Plica Polonica, in which the hair-shafts become intertwined and start looking like one solid mass. The hair becomes irreversibly tangled and matted, while the scalp becomes inflamed, and emits a bad odor. The disease is also called Plica neuropathica or ‘dreadlocks.’
Such a condition has been reported in the Hindu scriptures describing dreadlocked deities and their followers. It is often seen among holy men and rishis in the country, who maintain “jattas” of unkempt hair. Sadhus and rishis create this type of hair mass by applying wax or ash as part of their religious beliefs. It is believed that such hair mass preserves energy in the hair and the body, and is therefore healthy. To have such hair and offering it to Lord Shiva is a religious custom. It was first described by a doctor in Poland in the 19th century and that is how it gets its name. The condition was common in Poland, where there was a custom of wearing tight fur caps, accompanied by the belief that such a condition was actually healthy.
It is easy to diagnose Plica Polonica as the hair appears as one solid mass with irreversibly tangled hair. The hair is hard and may be tangled with dust and dirt. It may be accompanied by a bad smell. The formation is called “bird’s nest” since that is what it resembles. It gives a very untidy look and may also be infested with lice.
The hair has irregular twists and is hopelessly tangled: it is a hard mass of hair which is cemented by various things such as dirt, pus, and blood. The rest of the scalp appears bald and inflamed.
Plica Polonica is caused by poor hygiene, lice infestation and diseases of the scalp. It is also seen among patients with psychological disturbances and mental disease. Scalp infections caused by poor hygienic factors, or shampoos containing detergents cause this condition. As I mentioned earlier, in India Plica Polonica is deliberately created for religious reasons.
Those at risk include people having curly hair, sticky hair and kinky hair. Psychiatric diseases such as schizophrenia and depression also cause Plica Polonica. Scalp diseases and reactions of certain medicines cannot be ruled out. Keeping the head covered with caps for long periods of time, ignoring the sweating on the scalp, will contribute to the development of the disease.
There is really no treatment for the condition except to cut off the Plica and cleaning and treating the scalp. The problem arises if the patient refuses to have the Plica cut off, as in the case of people with psychological disturbances or due to religious beliefs.
If the condition is starting and not severe, the hair is washed with shampoo, and the tangled hair is separated manually. This is a huge task, but solvents may make it slightly easier. If the condition is severe, the solid mass of hair must be removed by cutting it. The head may be shaved and treated for lice and nits. Antibiotics may be prescribed to fight infection.
The best way to avoid the condition is to keep the hair clean. Patients are advised to prevent this condition from occurring. Regular cleaning of the hair with mild cleansers, regular oil massage of the scalp, keeping the hair hydrated and healthy, following gentle combing methods, and so on, are methods that the hair will not become a mess. Do not keep the head covered for long periods of time, and keep the hair untangled and smooth. A good, clean hair of the head is an advantage and adds to one’s beauty.