Tinea capitis is a fungal infection of the scalp. It is also called ringworm of the scalp.
Related skin infections may be found:
- In a man’s beard
- In the groin (jock itch)
- Between the toes (athlete’s foot)
- Other places on the skin
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:
- Have minor skin or scalp injuries
- Do not bathe or wash your hair often
- Have wet skin for a long time (such as from sweating)
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 part or all of the scalp. The affected areas:
- Are bald with small black dots, due to hair that has broken off
- Have round, scaly areas of skin that are red or swollen (inflamed)
- Have pus-filled sores called kerions
- May be very itchy
You may have a low-grade fever of around 100 to 101°F (37.8 to 38.3°C) or swollen lymph nodes in the neck.
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 test that uses a lamp called a Wood’s lamp can help diagnose a fungal scalp infection.
Your 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.