(Ringworm of the Scalp; Fungal Infection of the Scalp)
Tinea capitis is a skin infection that affects the scalp.
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Tinea capitis is caused by a type of fungus called a dermatophyte. The fungi thrive in warm, humid environments.
Tinea capitis usually affects children under the age of 10 years, and those of African descent. Other factors that may increase your child's chances of tinea capitis:
- Stays in daycare centers
- Exposure to pets with the infection
- Poor hygiene
- Sharing combs, brushes, or hats
- Immune system disorders, such as HIV infection
Tinea capitis may cause:
- Itching of the scalp (not always present)
- Bald patches
- Areas of swelling, redness, scales, sores, or irritated skin
If left untreated, tinea capitis 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 dermatologist, a specialist who 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. The condition can be difficult to treat. In some cases, tinea capitis can return after treatment. For some children, the condition goes away during puberty.
Using an antifungal shampoo may help to reduce the risk of spreading the condition to others.
To help reduce your child’s chances of tinea capitis:
- Shampoo your child’s hair regularly.
- Do not 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
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Canadian Dermatology Association
Ely JW, Rosenfeld S Stone MS. Diagnosis and management of tinea infections. Am Fam Physician. 2014;90(10):702-711.
Tinea capitis. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116543/Tinea-capitis. Updated August 26, 2016. Accessed December 5, 2017.
Last reviewed November 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board David L. Horn, MD, FACP Last Updated: 12/20/2014