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Ringworm of the scalp
Ringworm of the scalp

Wood's lamp test - of the scalp
Wood's lamp test - of the scalp

Ringworm, tinea capitis - close-up
Ringworm, tinea capitis - close-up


Tinea capitis is a fungal infection of the scalp.

Alternative Names:

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

Causes, incidence, and risk factors:

Tinea capitis (also called ringworm of the scalp) is caused by by mold-like fungi called dermatophytes. It usually affects children and disappears at puberty. However, it can occur at any age.

The fungi that cause tinea infections thrive in warm, moist areas. You have an increased risk for tinea infection if you have:

  • Minor skin or scalp injuries
  • Poor hygiene
  • Wet skin for a long time (such as from sweating)

Tinea infections are contagious. You can catch tinea capitis if you come into direct contact with someone who has the condition, or if you touch contaminated items such as combs, hats, or clothing. The infection can also be spread by pets, particularly cats.


Symptoms include:

  • Areas that appear bald, due to hair that has broken off
  • Itching of the scalp
  • Pus-filled sores (lesions) on the scalp (kerions)
  • Round, scaly lesions on the scalp that may be red or swollen (inflamed)
  • Small black dots on the scalp

Signs and tests:

The appearance of the scalp will make the health care provider suspect tinea capitis.

Tests may include:


Anti-fungal medications, taken by mouth, are used to treat the infection. Griseofulvin, terbinafine, and itraconazole are often used to treat this condition.

Keep the area clean. A medicated shampoo, such as one containing ketoconazole or selenium sulfide, may reduce the spread of infection. Other family members and pets should be examined and treated, if necessary.

Support Groups:

Expectations (prognosis):

Tinea capitis may be extremely persistent, and it may return after treatment. In many cases it gets better on its own when the person reaches puberty.

  • Hair loss
  • Permanent scars
  • Pus-filled sores (kerions)

Calling your health care provider:

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you have symptoms of tinea capitis. Home care remedies do not effectively treat tinea capitis.


Good general hygiene is important to prevent and treat tinea infections. Shampoo the scalp regularly, especially after haircuts.

Avoid contact with infected pets or people. Do not exchange headgear, combs, and similar items unless they are first thoroughly cleaned and dried.


Andrews MD, Burns M. Common tinea infections in children. Am Fam Physician. 2008;77:1415-1420.

Review Date: 10/3/2008
Reviewed By: Kevin Berman, MD, PhD, Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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