Fungal infection - scalp
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Fungal infection - scalp


Tinea capitis is an infection of the scalp by mold-like fungi called dermatophytes.

Alternative Names

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


Tinea capitis (also called ringworm of the scalp) is a skin disorder that usually affects only children. It can be persistent and contagious, however, it often disappears spontaneously at puberty.

The fungi that cause tinea infections thrive in warm, moist areas. You have an increased risk for tinea infection if you have poor hygiene, prolonged wetness of the skin (such as from sweating), and minor skin or scalp injuries.

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


Symptoms include round, scaly lesions on the scalp. These areas may be red or swollen (inflammed). The patient may have areas that appear bald, due to hair that has broken off. There may be small black dots on the scalp.

Itching of the scalp may be slight, or may not occur at all. Sometimes, there may be pus-filled lesions on the scalp (kerions).

Exams and Tests

The diagnosis is suspected primarily based on the appearance of the scalp. A skin lesion biopsy with microscopic examination or culture may show dermatophytes. This test is often not necessary to diagnose tinea capitis. A Wood's lamp test may be performed to confirm the presence of a fungal scalp infection.


Anti-fungal medications, taken by mouth, are used to treat the infection.

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

Outlook (Prognosis)

Tinea capitis may be extremely persistent, may resolve spontaneously at puberty, and may recur.

Possible Complications

Complications include pus-filled sores (kerions), permanent scaring, and hair loss.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

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 in the prevention and treatment of all tinea infections. The scalp should be shampooed regularly, especially after haircuts.

Avoid contact with infected pets or individuals. Headgear, combs, and similar items should not be exchanged unless they are first thoroughly cleaned and dried.

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