Tinea capitis



What is Tinea capitis (Ringworm of the scalp)?

Ringworm of the scalp is not really a worm, but a fungal infection. It gets the name ringworm because the fungus makes circular marks on the skin, often with flat centers and raised borders. Also called Tinea capitis, this infection affects your scalp and hair shafts, causing small patches of itchy, scaly skin.

Ringworm is a highly contagious infection that’s usually spread through person-to-person contact or by sharing combs, towels, hats, or pillows.

How common is Tinea capitis (Ringworm of the scalp)?

Tinea capitis (Ringworm of the scalp) is extremely common. It is one of the most common skin problems seen in children aged 4-14. However, it sometimes affects young children and adults also. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.


What are the symptoms of Tinea capitis (Ringworm of the scalp)?

The most common symptom of ringworm is itchy patches on the scalp. Sections of hair may break off near the scalp, leaving scaly, red areas or bald spots. You may see black dots where the hair has broken off. Left untreated, these areas can gradually grow and spread.

Other symptoms include:

In more severe cases, you may develop crusty swellings called kerion that drain pus. These can lead to permanent bald spots and scarring.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you or your loved one has any signs or symptoms listed above or you have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.


What causes Tinea capitis (Ringworm of the scalp)?

Fungi called dermatophytes cause ringworm of the scalp. Fungi are organisms that thrive on dead tissue, such as fingernails, hair, and the outer layers of your skin. Dermatophytes prefer warmth and moisture, so they thrive on sweaty skin. Overcrowding and poor hygiene increase the spread of ringworm.

Ringworm spreads easily, especially among children. You can get ringworm from touching the skin of an infected person. If you use combs, bedding, or other objects that have been used by an infected person, you’re also at risk.

House pets, such as cats and dogs, can spread ringworm, too. Farm animals like goats, cows, horses, and pigs can also be carriers. However, these animals might not show any signs of infection.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for Tinea capitis (Ringworm of the scalp)?

Children 4-14 years of age are most likely to develop ringworm of the scalp, although it can occasionally appear in adults and may occur in younger children.

Scalp ringworm occurs most frequently in urban areas among people with poor hygiene, those living in overcrowded quarters, or those living in warm, damp climates.

This disease tends to be more severe in people with weakened immune systems, such as those with diabetes, AIDS, or cancer.

Please consult with your doctor for further information.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is Tinea capitis (Ringworm of the scalp) diagnosed?

A visual exam is often enough for a doctor to diagnose ringworm of the scalp. Your doctor may use a special light called a Wood’s lamp to illuminate your scalp and determine signs of infection.

Your doctor may also take a skin or hair sample to confirm the diagnosis. The sample is then sent to a lab to determine the presence of fungi. This involves looking at your hair or a scraping from a scaly patch of scalp under a microscope. This process may take up to three weeks.

How is Tinea capitis (Ringworm of the scalp) treated?

Your doctor will probably prescribe fungi-killing oral medication and medicated shampoo.

Antifungal medication

The leading antifungal medications for ringworm are griseofulvin (Grifulvin V, Gris-PEG) and terbinafine hydrochloride (Lamisil). Both are oral medications that you take for approximately six weeks. Both have common side effects, including diarrhea and upset stomach. Your doctor may recommend taking these medications with a high-fat food such as peanut butter or ice cream.

Other possible side effects of griseofulvin include:

  • Sun sensitivity
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Faintness
  • Dizziness
  • Allergic reactions in people who are also allergic to penicillin
  • Headache
  • Rash
  • Hives

Other possible side effects of terbinafine hydrochloride include:

  • Stomach pain
  • Itching
  • Rash
  • Hives
  • Loss of taste or change in taste
  • Allergic reaction
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Liver problems, in rare cases

Medicated shampoo

Your doctor may prescribe a medicated shampoo to remove fungus and prevent the spread of infection. The shampoo contains the active antifungal ingredient ketoconazole or selenium sulfide. Medicated shampoo helps prevent the fungus from spreading, but it doesn’t kill ringworm. You must combine this type of treatment with an oral medication.

Your doctor may tell you to use this shampoo a couple times per week for a month. Leave the shampoo on for five minutes, then rinse.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage Tinea capitis (Ringworm of the scalp)?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with Tinea capitis (Ringworm of the scalp):

Children can usually return to school once they start treatment for ringworm, but you should ask your doctor when it’s safe for them to return.

Pets and other family members should be examined and treated if necessary. This will help prevent reinfection. Maintain regular checkups for all pets and ask your veterinarian to check for ringworm.

Because family members may be carriers, some doctors recommend that family members should also use the medicated shampoo to reduce the number of spores and prevent the infection from returning.

Hairbrushes and combs should be replaced or cleansed with disinfectant such as bleach solution. Also, do not share towels, combs, hats, or other personal items with other family members.

Home remedies such as vinegar (acetic acid) and tea tree oil have not been shown to improve scalp ringworm and may further irritate the skin and worsen the condition.

Ringworm heals very slowly. It can take more than a month to see any improvement. Be patient and continue taking all medication as directed.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


Review Date: April 11, 2018 | Last Modified: April 11, 2018

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