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My child has an itchy scalp infection – Is it Tinea Capitis (Scalp Ringworm)?

Does your child have a dandruff that won’t go away?

Or bald patches on his or her scalp?

Perhaps a red patch or circle on the head, neck or scalp?

Or a very itchy head?

It could be tinea capitis, often called scalp ringworm.

What is tinea capitis or scalp ringworm?
Fungal infections can occur in the skin, nails and hair. While the name suggests a worm, scalp ringworm or tinea capitis is a kind of fungal infection—not a worm. The term ringworm refers to a rash that assumes a ring form. Often confused with psoriasis, dandruff or other skin conditions, scalp ringworm is very contagious most commonly seen in children.

What are the symptoms?
When a child gets scalp ringworm, scaly patches often appear on the scalp. Other symptoms include broken hair, redness, swelling, and even oozing on the scalp. A red circle or ring on the skin develops a raised edge often with clear skin in the center, but as the ring develops scales the inner smooth skin also changes to a red color. The infection may itch and can spread to different areas on the body.

Look for round, scaly areas of skin that are red or swollen (inflamed) or even pus-filled sores called kerions. Children may have a low-grade fever (100 – 101 degrees) or swollen lymph nodes in the neck.

How do children get this infection?
Tinea capitis is caused by mold-like fungi called dermatophytes. The fungi grow well in warm, moist areas. Conditions the fungi like include:

• Minor skin or scalp injuries
• Poor hygiene including lack of bathing or washing hair often
• Moist skin for a long time (such as from sweating)

Please remember, tinea capitis can be contagious. If your child comes into direct contact with an area of ringworm on someone else’s body or scalp ringworm can be easily passed to your child. It is also passed by sharing combs, hats, or clothing, bed linens, towels or other contaminated items that have been used by someone with ringworm. In addition, the infection can also be spread by pets, particularly cats.

What should you do if you suspect your child has tinea capitis?

1. See your doctor or a board-certified dermatologist. Your child could have ringworm or another type of skin infection, and treatment can cure the infection.

2. Keep the infected area clean and dry. Remember fungal infections thrive in warm, moist areas.

3. Avoid sharing personal belongings. If you’re diagnosed, avoid sharing towels, hats, combs and other personal items at home to avoid spreading the disease.

4. Wash your hands after touching the infected area. Touching or scratching the area with ringworm and then touching another area can spread ringworm from one part of body to another. Washing your hands well can help prevent this.

What to expect at the dermatologist?
During the appointment, we’ll take scrapings from the area of the infection and send it to the pathology lab to confirm ringworm.

It’s important to treat the area for as long as recommended. Ringworm is treated with antifungal medication, which can take the form of a cream, ointment or pill.

If diagnosed with ringworm, the treatment will depend on the size of the infection and its location. If you’re instructed to use over-the-counter antifungal medication for your child, follow the directions on the package. If you’re prescribed stronger antifungal medication, treat the area for as long as recommended to prevent the infection from reappearing. These types of fungal infections often take a while to treat.

Please contact our office right away if you suspect your child has tinea capitis or other skin conditions. We have a pediatric dermatologist who specializes in children’s skin diseases. Schedule an appointment today. 

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