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Ringworm of the scalp

Fungal infection - scalp; Tinea of the scalp; Tinea - capitis

 

Ringworm of the scalp is a fungal infection that affects the scalp. It is also called tinea capitis.

Related ringworm infections may be found:

  • In a man's beard
  • In the groin (jock itch)
  • Between the toes (athlete's foot)
  • Other places on the skin

Causes

 

Fungi are germs that can live on the dead tissue of the hair, nails, and outer skin layers. Ringworm of the scalp is caused by mold-like fungi called dermatophytes.

The fungi grow well in warm, moist areas. A tinea infection is more likely if you:

  • Have minor skin or scalp injuries
  • Do not bathe or wash your hair often
  • Have wet skin for a long time (such as from sweating)

Ringworm can spread easily. It most often affects children and goes away at puberty. However, it can occur at any age.

You can catch ringworm if you come into direct contact with an area of ringworm on someone else's body. You can also get it if you touch items such as combs, hats, or clothing that have been used by someone with ringworm. The infection can also be spread by pets, particularly cats.

 

Symptoms

 

Ringworm may involve part or all of the scalp. The affected areas:

  • Are bald with small black dots, due to hair that has broken off
  • Have round, scaly areas of skin that are red or swollen (inflamed)
  • Have pus-filled sores called kerions
  • May be very itchy

You may have a low-grade fever of around 100°F to 101°F (37.8°C to 38.3°C) or swollen lymph nodes in the neck.

Ringworm may cause permanent hair loss and lasting scars.

 

Exams and Tests

 

Your health care provider will look at your scalp for signs of ringworm.

You may also need the following tests:

  • Examination of a skin scraping from the rash under a microscope using a special test
  • Skin culture for fungus 
  • Skin biopsy (rarely needed)

 

Treatment

 

Your provider will prescribe medicine you take by mouth to treat ringworm on the scalp. You will need to take the medicine for 4 to 8 weeks.

Steps you can do at home include:

  • Keeping your scalp clean.
  • Washing with a medicated shampoo, such as one that contains ketoconazole or selenium sulfide. Shampooing may slow or stop the spread of infection, but it does not get rid of ringworm.

Other family members and pets should be examined and treated, if necessary.

  • Other children in the home may want to use the shampoo 2 to 3 times a week for about 6 weeks.
  • Adults only need to wash with the shampoo if they have signs of tinea capitis or ringworm.

Once the shampoo has been started:

  • Wash towels in hot, soapy water and dry them using the hottest heat as recommended on the care label. This should be done each time the towels are used by someone who is infected.
  • Soak combs and brushes for 1 hour a day in a mixture of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water. Do this for 3 days in a row.

No one in the home should share combs, hairbrushes, hats, towels, pillowcases, or helmets with other people.

 

Outlook (Prognosis)

 

It may be hard to get rid of ringworm. Also, the problem may come back after it is treated. In many cases it gets better on its own after puberty.

 

When to Contact a Medical Professional

 

Call your provider if you have symptoms of ringworm of the scalp. Home care is not enough to get rid of tinea capitis.

 

 

References

Habif TP. Superficial fungal infections. In: Habif TP, ed. Clinical Dermatology: A Color Guide to Diagnosis and Therapy. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 13.

Hay RJ. Dermatophytosis (ringworm) and other superficial mycoses. In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases, Updated Edition. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 268.

 
  • Ringworm of the scalp

    Ringworm of the scalp - illustration

    A fungal infection of the scalp by mold-like fungi is called tinea capitis. Tinea capitis (also called ringworm of the scalp) is a skin disorder that affects children almost exclusively. It can be persistent and very contagious. Symptoms may consist of itching, scaly, inflamed balding areas on the scalp. Oral antifungal medications are required to treat the infection.

    Ringworm of the scalp

    illustration

  • Wood's lamp test - of the scalp

    Wood's lamp test - of the scalp - illustration

    A Wood's lamp is a light that uses long wave ultraviolet light. When an area of scalp that is infected with tinea (a type of ringworm fungus) is viewed under a Wood's light, the fungus may glow. This test may be done to detect the presence of a fungal scalp or skin infection.

    Wood's lamp test - of the scalp

    illustration

  • Ringworm, tinea capitis - close-up

    Ringworm, tinea capitis - close-up - illustration

    In the scalp, fungal infections often form circular, scaly, inflamed patches. Frequently, there can be temporary hair loss (hair returns when infection clears but if treatment is delayed and scarring results, permanent hair loss can be seen). This is a classical example of ringworm (tinea capitis) in a young child.

    Ringworm, tinea capitis - close-up

    illustration

    • Ringworm of the scalp

      Ringworm of the scalp - illustration

      A fungal infection of the scalp by mold-like fungi is called tinea capitis. Tinea capitis (also called ringworm of the scalp) is a skin disorder that affects children almost exclusively. It can be persistent and very contagious. Symptoms may consist of itching, scaly, inflamed balding areas on the scalp. Oral antifungal medications are required to treat the infection.

      Ringworm of the scalp

      illustration

    • Wood's lamp test - of the scalp

      Wood's lamp test - of the scalp - illustration

      A Wood's lamp is a light that uses long wave ultraviolet light. When an area of scalp that is infected with tinea (a type of ringworm fungus) is viewed under a Wood's light, the fungus may glow. This test may be done to detect the presence of a fungal scalp or skin infection.

      Wood's lamp test - of the scalp

      illustration

    • Ringworm, tinea capitis - close-up

      Ringworm, tinea capitis - close-up - illustration

      In the scalp, fungal infections often form circular, scaly, inflamed patches. Frequently, there can be temporary hair loss (hair returns when infection clears but if treatment is delayed and scarring results, permanent hair loss can be seen). This is a classical example of ringworm (tinea capitis) in a young child.

      Ringworm, tinea capitis - close-up

      illustration

    Self Care

     

      Tests for Ringworm of the scalp

       

         

        Review Date: 10/24/2016

        Reviewed By: David L. Swanson, MD, Vice Chair of Medical Dermatology, Associate Professor of Dermatology, Mayo Medical School, Scottsdale, AZ. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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