Navigate Up

Full Library - A-Z Index


Print This Page

Tinea capitis

Tinea capitis is a fungal infection of the scalp. It is also called ringworm of the scalp.

Related skin infections may be found:

Alternative Names

Fungal infection - scalp; Infection - fungal - scalp; Tinea of the scalp; Ringworm - scalp

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Fungi are germs that can live on the dead tissue of the hair, nails, and outer skin layers. Tinea capitis is caused by mold-like fungi called dermatophytes.

The fungi grow well in warm, moist areas. A tinea infection is more likely if you: 

  • Have minor skin or scalp injuries
  • Do not bathe or wash your hair often
  • Have wet skin for a long time (such as from sweating)

Tinea capitis or ringworm can spread easily. It most often affects children and goes away at puberty. However, it can occur at any age.

You can catch tinea capitis 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

Tinea capitis may involve only parts of the scalp, or all of it. Areas that are infected appear bald with small black dots, due to hair that has broken off.

You may have round, scaly areas of skin that are red or swollen (inflamed). You may also have pus-filled sores called kerions.

You may have a low-grade fever of around 100 - 101 °F or swollen lymph nodes in the neck.

There is almost always itching of the scalp.

Tinea capitis may cause hair loss and lasting scars.

Signs and tests

Your health care provider will look at your scalp for signs of  tinea capitis. A special lamp called a Wood's lamp test can help diagnose a fungal scalp infection.

The health care provider may swab the area and send it for a culture. It may take up to 3 weeks to get these results.

Rarely, a skin biopsy of the scalp will be done.

Treatment

The health care provider will prescribe medicine you take by mouth to treat ringworm in the scalp.

  • Griseofulvin, terbinafine, and itraconazole are the types of medicine used to treat this condition.
  • You will need to take the medicine for 4 - 8 weeks.

Steps you can do at home include:

  • Keep the area clean.
  • Wash with a medicated shampoo, such as one that contains ketoconazole or selenium sulfide. Shampooing may slow or stop the spread of infection, but does not get rid of ringworm on its own.  

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

  • Other children in the home may want to use the shampoo 2 - 3 times a week for around 6 weeks.
  • Adults only need to wash with the shampoo if they have signs of tinea capitis or ringworm.

Once the shampoo has been started:

  • Wash towels in warm, soapy water and dry each time they are used by someone who is infected
  • Soak combs and brushes for 1 hour a day in a mixture of one-half bleach and one-half water. Do this for 3 days.

No one in the home should share combs, hairbrushes, hats, towels, pillowcases, or helmets with other people.

Expectations (prognosis)

It may be hard to get rid of tinea capitis. Also, the problem may come back after it is treated. In many cases it gets better  on its own after puberty.

Calling your health care provider

Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of tinea capitis. Home care is not enough to get rid of tinea capitis.

References

Elewski BE, Hughey LC, Sobera JO, et al. Fungal Diseases. In: Bolognia JL, Jorizzo JL, Schaffer JV, et al, eds.Dermatology. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2012:chap 77.

Hay RJ. Dermatophytosis and other superficial mycoses. In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier;2009:chap 267.

Updated: 11/20/2012

Kevin Berman, MD, PhD, Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.


©  UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on UPMC.com is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, UPMC.com is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

© UPMC
Pittsburgh, PA, USA UPMC.com