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Quick Facts

Scalp Ringworm

(Tinea Capitis)


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Nov 2020| Content last modified Nov 2020
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Ringworm is a common fungal infections of your skin or nails. Ringworm has nothing to do with worms. But the rash it causes can be ring-shaped. Therefore the infection has come to be called ringworm. Doctors call these infections "tinea."

What is scalp ringworm?

Scalp ringworm is a fungal infection that causes a scaly rash or patch of hair loss on the scalp.

  • Scalp ringworm is most common in children

  • It spreads easily from person to person

  • It can cause a scalp rash, bald spots, and rarely a painful swelling that leaks pus

  • Treatment includes antifungal medicine taken by mouth and used in a scalp cream and special shampoo

  • It can take a long time to get rid of scalp ringworm

What are the symptoms of scalp ringworm?

Symptoms include:

  • A dry, scaly rash on your head that may itch

  • A patch of hair loss (alopecia)

  • Sometimes, flaking of your scalp that looks like dandruff

  • Sometimes, a painful swollen patch on the scalp that may blister or ooze pus (kerion)

How do doctors tell if I have scalp ringworm?

Doctors can often tell it's scalp ringworm by looking at it. They'll sometimes pluck a hair from your head and take a small scraping of skin to look at under a microscope. They may look at your scalp with a UV light, because ringworm glows under UV light and other rashes don't.

How do doctors treat scalp ringworm?

Doctors treat scalp ringworm in children with:

  • Antifungal medicine by mouth for 4 to 6 weeks

  • Antifungal cream applied to the child's scalp until the infection is gone

  • Prescription-strength selenium sulfide shampoo to wash the child's hair, at least twice a week

  • For a kerion, corticosteroids by mouth

Children may attend school during treatment.

Doctors treat scalp ringworm in adults with:

  • Antifungal medicine by mouth for 3 to 4 months

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