Scalp Ringworm


Scalp ringworm (Tinea Capitis) refers to an itchy, scaly rash of the scalp. There are many causes of an itchy scalp; however, when it is caused by a fungus, the rash is known as tinea capitis. The fungus causing tinea capitis prefers hair follicles. This is why tinea capitis favors the scalp area. The affected hairs can harbor the fungus for a year or more. As these affected hairs are shed, other family members’ scalps can become infected with the same fungus. Tinea capitis is most common between preschool-age and adolescence.

Signs & Symptoms

The appearance of scalp ringworm can vary among affected individuals, but the most common signs are reddening, crusting, and scaling of the scalp. Intense itching usually occurs as well. Scalp ringworm can cause up to 50% of hair loss among children. Lymph nodes in the neck region may become enlarged with all types of scalp ringworm organisms, and some children may have high fevers. The specific pattern depends on the infecting organisms and how the immune system responds to the infection.


Scalp ringworm is caused by a mold-like fungi called dermatophytes.Fungal spores can be transmitted through contact with an infected person, fallen infected hairs, or contaminated objects. These may include objects such as:

  • combs and brushes
  • hats
  • movie theater seats
  • bedding
  • clothing

Contact alone with one of these carriers may not be enough to cause an infection. However, coupled with minor trauma to the scalp, such as scratches or tight braiding, spores can enter the skin or hair shaft through the stratum corneum (a layer of the skin). Here, dermatophytes invade and digest the tissue’s keratin (a type of protein) as the organisms grow.

Prevention & Treatment

Sometimes, scalp ringworm can heal without treatment, but consulting a doctor is advised. Use a shampoo specially designed for treatment of ringworm on the scalp. Shampoos containing selenium sulfide or zinc pyrithione are the most commonly used for scalp ringworm. Some shampoos are available over-the-counter, but you may require the use of a prescription-strength shampoo. Shaving the scalp is unnecessary.

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