Ringworm of the scalp (tinea capitis) is a fungal infection of the scalp and hair shafts. The signs and symptoms of ringworm of the scalp may vary, but it usually appears as itchy, scaly, bald patches on the head.
Ringworm of the scalp, a highly contagious infection, is most common in toddlers and school-age children.
Treatment for ringworm of the scalp includes medications taken by mouth to kill the fungi, as well as medicated shampoos that may lessen the spread of infection.
Some cases of ringworm of the scalp result in severe inflammation at the site of infection that may cause scarring or permanent hair loss.
The signs and symptoms of ringworm of the scalp include:
When to see a doctor
Several conditions affecting the scalp may have a similar appearance. See your child's doctor if your child has any hair loss, scaling or itchiness of the scalp, or other unusual appearance of the scalp. It's important to get an accurate diagnosis and prompt, appropriate treatment.
Ringworm of the scalp is caused by one of several varieties of mold-like fungi called dermatophytes. The fungi attack the outer layer of skin on the scalp and the hair shaft.
Ringworm isn't caused by a worm. The common name for the disorder refers to the ring-like or circular appearance of the infection on the skin.
Ringworm is contagious and can spread in the following ways:
The fungi that cause ringworm of the scalp can cause other infections on the body. These infections are generally classified by the part of the body affected. They include:
Risk factors for ringworm of the scalp include:
In some cases, ringworm of the scalp causes kerion — a severe, painful inflammation of the scalp. Kerion appears as soft, raised swellings that drain pus and cause thick, yellow crusting on the scalp.
Instead of breaking, the hair falls out or can be easily pulled out. Kerion may be caused by an overly vigorous reaction to the fungus and can lead to permanent scars and hair loss.
Ringworm is difficult to prevent because the fungi that cause it are common and highly contagious. You can help reduce the risk of ringworm by taking these steps:
Your doctor can often make a diagnosis of ringworm or another condition affecting the scalp based on a visual examination of the scalp and your answers to questions.
He or she may take a sample or hair or skin for examination under a microscope. This test may reveal the presence of fungi and help confirm a diagnosis.
Antifungal medications that can be taken by mouth are used to treat ringworm of the scalp. The medications most commonly prescribed include griseofulvin (Gris-Peg) and terbinafine (Lamisil). Your child might need to take one of these medications for six weeks or more.
Your doctor might recommend that you also wash your child's hair with a prescription-strength medicated shampoo. This may help remove fungus spores and prevent the spread of the infection to other people or to other areas of your child's scalp or body.
If your child has a condition affecting his or her scalp, you'll likely start by seeing your family doctor or child's pediatrician. You may be referred to a skin specialist (dermatologist).
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions, such as:
Questions you might be prepared to ask your doctor include:
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