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


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: 

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.


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.

Exams 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.


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

Steps you can do at home include:

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

Once the shampoo has been started:

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

Outlook (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.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

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


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.

Review Date: 11/20/2012
Reviewed By: 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.
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