What is ringworm of the scalp?

Ringworm of the scalp: Overview

Ringworm is a fungus infection of the skin. It is not caused by a worm or bug. Ringworm causes round patches of baldness or scaly skin on the scalp. Ringworm of the scalp is most common in children 3 to 9 years old.

Sometimes the infected area is inflamed, reddened, crusty, itchy, and tender, with small swollen bumps.

The fungus that causes ringworm of the scalp spreads from person to person. You can get ringworm by sharing hats, combs, brushes, towels, pillowcases, or helmets. Once in a while, it can also spread from a dog or cat to a person.

Ringworm of the scalp is treated with pills. Ringworm may come back after treatment. Treating ringworm of the scalp can prevent scarring and permanent hair loss.

Ringworm of the scalp

Ringworm of the scalp is an infection that grows in the outer layer of the scalp and in the hair. It is caused by a fungus, not by a worm. It often looks like round bald patches, but sometimes it looks like dandruff or patches of black dots. It can be treated with prescription medicine and a special shampoo.

You can get ringworm by touching a person or animal that has it or by sharing personal items such as hats, combs, brushes, towels, and pillowcases.

What are the symptoms of ringworm of the scalp?

The condition often looks like round, bald patches. In most cases, the infection spreads outward while the inside of the circle clears up. This makes the infection look like a ring. It may also look like dandruff, patches of black dots, or small bumps that look like blisters. It can also be itchy.

How is ringworm of the scalp treated?

The condition is treated with pills and special shampoo. They are used together to treat ringworm of the scalp. If treated, hair in the bald spots usually grows back. A follow-up exam is needed to make sure the infection has cleared.

How can you help prevent ringworm of the scalp from coming back or spreading?

  • As soon as you start treatment, replace your combs and brushes. Or you can clean them after each use with diluted household bleach. To dilute household bleach, follow the directions on the label.
  • Don't share hats, helmets, or other objects that are used for the head or hair. Ringworm-causing fungus can live on objects, people, or animals for several months.
  • Wash your hands well after caring for someone with ringworm. Adults who have contact with a child with ringworm of the scalp can become a carrier. A carrier does not have a ringworm infection but can pass it to others. Sometimes all caregivers are treated with a special shampoo.
  • Wash your clothes, towels, and bed sheets in hot, soapy water.

How is ringworm of the scalp diagnosed?

Your doctor will look at the rash and ask you about your symptoms. Your doctor may take a sample of your hair or skin to look at under a microscope. If it's not clear what's causing your rash, your doctor may do a skin culture.

How can you care for your child who has ringworm of the scalp?

  • Have your child take medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your child's doctor if your child has any problems with a medicine.
  • Ask your child's doctor if a special shampoo might help. Your child's doctor can let you know if and how often your child can use one.

How is ringworm of the scalp spread?

The fungus that causes ringworm of the scalp spreads from person to person. You can get ringworm by sharing hats, combs, brushes, towels, pillowcases, or helmets. Rarely, it can spread from a dog or cat to a person.

What is ringworm of the scalp?

Ringworm of the scalp is an infection that grows in the outer layer of the scalp and in the hair. The condition is caused by a fungus, not a worm.

Ringworm of the scalp in children: When to call

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the area.
    • Pus draining from the rash on the skin.
    • A fever.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your child's ringworm does not improve after 2 weeks of treatment.
  • Your child does not get better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.