Tinea Capitis or ringworm of the scalp is an infection that generally affects toddlers and school going children. In some cases, it has also been seen in adults aged 70 years or more. Tinea Capitis is more common in African American children.
Causes of Tinea Capitis
In the United States, three types of parasites are known to be responsible for this condition: Microsporum Canis, Trichophyton Tonsurans and Microsporum audouinii. These fungi infect the scalp and hair causing hair breakage. Trichophyton Tonsurans is known to spread from child to child through direct contact or sharing of infected brushes, combs, pillows, hats or towels etc. Nearly 10% cases of ringworm of the scalp in humans occur due to infected pets. (This kind of Tinea Capitis is non-contagious).
Signs and Symptoms of Ringworm of the scalp
Different signs and symptoms may be seen in the ringworm of the scalp:
- Seborrheic dermatitis or flaking on the scalp with pruritis and diffused scaling.
- Alopecia or round patches of hair loss that gradually grow in size
- A black dot or stubbled-appearance on the scalp where hair has broken off from the shaft.
- The area with Tinea Capitis itches to varying degrees
- The ringworm, if left untreated, can also spread to other body parts
- The infection is usually seen in children aged 2 to 10 years.
- In some kids, Tinea Capitis can also cause a Kerion. This is a tender swelling on the scalp that oozes pus. It occurs owing to an allergic reaction to the fungal parasite.
- Tinea Capitis that has spread from pets or animals causes redness, scalp irritation and itchiness in humans.
What to do in case of Tinea Capitis?
Tinea Capitis is not life threatening, but, when left untreated, it can lead to extreme hair loss that could affect the child emotionally. Furthermore, the infection is also likely to spread to the face, back and upper torso. Kerion, the swelling on scalp caused from the infection also needs prompt medical attention. Apart from normal treatment for ringworm of scalp, the doctor might prescribe steroids for treating the Kerion.
Hair lost due to ringworm of scalp generally grows back in 10 to 12 months time, provided the treatment is continued as per the doctor’s advice.
Medication and treatment for scalp ringworm
Fungal infections of the scalp require topical as well as oral medication. Only the use of scalp oils, shampoos and creams is not enough and your doctor/dermatologist will likely prescribe oral anti fungal medicine. Griseofulvin is the most common medicine prescribed for scalp fungal infection. It needs to be taken twice a day, preferably with fatty foods, to take effect. Still, despite this medicine, the ringworm of scalp might recur. The likely causes of recurrence are: continued contact with infected people, failure to take the medicine with fatty foods and/or resistance of the fungus to the medicine being taken.
Preventing fungal infection of the scalp
In order to prevent fungal infections of the scalp, the following precautions must be taken:
- Avoid sharing head gear, hats, combs, brushes, towels etc with friends or family members.
- Use medicated shampoos, oils or creams as prescribed by the doctor. Also continue taking the prescribed oral medicine, even if you start to notice improvement. Failure to do so will simply bring the ringworm back.
- Shampoos and oils containing salicylic acid are known to be highly effective for treating scalp fungal infections.
- It is important to treat infected pets if they are the ones spreading the infection.
Remember that close friends and family members of infected individuals are at the highest risk of developing Tinea Capitis. While children suffering from the ringworm of scalp need not miss their daily routine, it is important to ask them not to share their hats or other hair products with others.