Tinea Capitis
all information

Tinea Capitis

(Ringworm of the Scalp; Fungal Infection of the Scalp)

Pronounced: tin-EE-ah CAP-i-tis

En Español (Spanish Version)


Tinea capitis is an infection of the scalp caused by a type of fungus called a dermatophyte. It occurs most commonly in children. Adults very rarely develop tinea capitis.

Ringworm of the Scalp


© 2008 Nucleus Medical Art, Inc.


The fungi that cause tinea capitis thrive in warm, humid environments. Factors that may contribute to tinea capitis, therefore, include hot, humid climates, and excessive sweating.

Risk Factors

A risk factor is something that increases the chance of getting a disease or condition.

Risk factors for tinea capitis include:

  • Age: under 10 years of age
  • Race: African
  • Daycare centers
  • Exposure to pets with the infection
  • Poor hygiene
  • Sharing combs, brushes, or hats
  • Diabetes
  • Immune system disorders, such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection


Symptoms of tinea capitis include:

  • Itching of the scalp (not always present)
  • Bald patches
  • Possibly areas with swelling, sores, or irritated skin

If not properly treated, tinea capitis can sometimes cause permanent hair loss and scarring.


Your doctor will ask about your child’s symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. Your child may need to be referred to a doctor who specializes in skin disorders (a dermatologist).

The diagnosis can often be made by closely inspecting the scalp. If the diagnosis is uncertain, the doctor may scrape your child’s scalp or clip a few hairs for testing.

Tests on the sample may include:

  • Microscopic examination
  • Fungal culture


The main treatment for tinea capitis is prescription antifungal medications taken by mouth.

(note: Some people cannot take antifungal medications. Tell your doctor about any other medications your child is taking and any medical problems he or she has.)

Medicated shampoos are not effective, but can help prevent the spread of infection to other people.

Tinea capitis may be difficult to treat and may return after treatment. It sometimes goes away on its own at puberty.


To help reduce your child’s chance of getting tinea capitis, take the following steps:

  • Shampoo your child’s hair regularly.
  • Don’t allow your child to share headgear, brushes, or combs.
  • Wash towels, clothes, and any shared items used by an infected person to prevent spreading it to others in the household.
  • Take your pets to the veterinarian for treatment if they develop skin rashes.


American Academy of Dermatology

Dermatology Health Guide
University of Maryland Medical Center


Canadian Dermatology Association



Diagnosis and management of common tinea infections. American Academy of Family Physicians website. http://www.aafp.org/afp/980700ap/noble.html . Accessed September 27, 2005.

Medical encyclopedia: tinea capitis. National Library of Medicine. Available at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000878.htm . Accessed September 27, 2005.

Tinea (dermatophyte) infections. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: http://www.aad.org/professionals/Residents/MedStudCoreCurr/DCTineaInfections.htm . Accessed September 27, 2005.

Tinea infections: athlete’s foot, jock itch, and ringworm. American Academy of Family Physicians website. http://www.aafp.org/afp/980700ap/980700b.html . Accessed September 27, 2005.

Last reviewed January 2008 by Ross Zeltser, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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