Tinea capitis is an infection of the scalp. It is caused by a type of fungus called a dermatophyte. It occurs most often in children. It is very rare in adults.

Ringworm of the Scalp

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The fungi thrive in warm, humid environments. Factors that may contribute to tinea capitis include:

  • Hot
  • Humid climates
  • Excessive sweating

Risk Factors

Factors that increase your chance for tinea capitis include:

  • Age: under 10 years of age
  • Race: African
  • Daycare centers
  • Exposure to pets with the infection
  • Poor hygiene
  • Sharing combs, brushes, or hats
  • Diabetes
  • Immune system disorders, such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection


Symptoms of tinea capitis include:

  • Itching of the scalp (not always present)
  • Bald patches
  • Possibly areas with swelling, sores, or irritated skin

If not properly treated, it may cause permanent hair loss and scarring.


Your doctor will ask about your child’s symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Your child may need to be referred to a specialist. A dermatologist focuses on skin issues.

The diagnosis is often made with close inspection of the scalp. If the diagnosis is uncertain, the doctor may scrape your child’s scalp or clip a few hairs for testing.

Tests on the sample may include:

  • Microscopic examination
  • Fungal culture


The main treatment for tinea capitis is prescription antifungal medications. It is taken by mouth.

(note: Some people cannot take antifungal medications. Tell your doctor about any other medications your child is taking and any medical problems he or she has.)

Medicated shampoos are not effective. They can help prevent the spread of infection to other people.

Tinea capitis may be difficult to treat. It may return after treatment. It sometimes goes away on its own at puberty.


To help reduce your child’s chance of getting tinea capitis, take the following steps:

  • Shampoo your child’s hair regularly.
  • Don’t allow your child to share headgear, brushes, or combs.
  • Wash towels, clothes, and any shared items used by an infected person to prevent spreading it to others in the household.
  • Take your pets to the veterinarian for treatment if they develop skin rashes.