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Ringworm of the scalp

Definition

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

Related ringworm infections may be found:

Alternative Names

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

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:

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:

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:

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:

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

Once the shampoo has been started:

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.


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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