(Ringworm of the Scalp; Fungal Infection of the Scalp)
Pronounced: tin-EE-ah CAP-i-tis
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
The fungi thrive in warm, humid environments. Factors that may contribute to tinea capitis include:
- Humid climates
- Excessive sweating
Factors that increase your chance for tinea capitis include:
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.
American Academy of Dermatology
Dermatology Health Guide
University of Maryland Medical Center
Canadian Dermatology Association
Diagnosis and management of common tinea infections. American Academy of Family Physicians website. http://www.aafp.org/afp/980700ap/noble.html . Accessed September 27, 2005.
Medical encyclopedia: tinea capitis. National Library of Medicine. Available at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000878.htm . Accessed September 27, 2005.
Tinea (dermatophyte) infections. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: http://www.aad.org/professionals/Residents/MedStudCoreCurr/DCTineaInfections.htm . Accessed September 27, 2005.
Tinea infections: athlete’s foot, jock itch, and ringworm. American Academy of Family Physicians website. http://www.aafp.org/afp/980700ap/980700b.html . Accessed September 27, 2005.
Last reviewed January 2009 by Ross Zeltser, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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