What Is Scalp Ringworm And How Do I Treat It?

Tinea capitis is the medical term for scalp ringworm, one of several types of ringworm, not having anything to do with worms, misleadingly.  The problem of scalp ringworm is actually due to fungi on the scalp.

It is quite common to find outbreaks of scalp ringworm among children in the same classroom or daycare center.  The infection is mainly seen in four to fourteen year old children. It rarely affects adults. 

What are the symptoms of scalp ringworm?

There will be red skin in the shape of rings on one or more areas of the scalp.  These rings are either scaly and dry, or crusty and moist.  They may or may not itch. Patches of hair sometimes fall out, and there may be a rash on other parts of the body. People with high fungal sensitivity can develop one or more large lesions called kerions. These can be accompanied by sore neck lymph nodes.

How is it contracted?

Tinea capitis is highly contagious and can be contracted from humans or animals. In the case of animals, it results from direct contact with the animals’ skin or fur. It is found in cats and dogs, but more often puppies and kittens.  It is also seen in goats, pigs, cows and horses. Any infected pets or farm animals must be treated along with the infected persons. Tinea can be passed from person to person through direct contact, or from contact with other objects such as combs, brushes, clothing, bedding and towels.

Some conditions that make one more likely to catch it are uncleanliness, warm temperatures, contact with carriers, malnourishment, or compromised immunity due to diseases-- such as aids, cancer and diabetes -- or certain medications.

What measures should be taken to eliminate this fungal infection?

  1. Extra care to keep the scalp and hair clean and dry.  Do not wear hats, scarves, hair ornaments, or headbands.

  2. Frequent washing of clothing, bedding towels and other items that come in contact with the infected area.

  3. Over the counter shampoos:  Look for brands with 2% zinc pyrithione or 2.5% selenium sulfide.  Shampoo thoroughly 3 times a week. If soreness occurs reduce to 2 times a week. Some products with these ingredients include Selsun (Blue, or Women’s Gold) and Intensive Head and Shoulders.

  4. Anti-fungal shampoo requiring a prescription.

  5. Prescription anti-fungal pills, for a course of 1 to 2 months or longer.

  6. If one or more swollen lesions are present, steroids may be needed as well.

  7. If ringworm causes a bacterial infection, anti-bacterial pills will also be prescribed.

How To Diagnose Scalp Ringworm

The doctor’s trained eye can usually identify it by the scalp’s appearance.  A blue light may also be used.  It is shined on the scalp and if the skin looks florescent this means ringworm is present. If necessary, a skin scraping may be taken for lab examination.

Scalp ringworm is sometimes persistent. It can recur and need repeated courses of treatment, however, it is not considered dangerous.



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