What is Scalp Ringworm?

Erin J. Hill

Scalp ringworm is a fungal infection that affects the skin on the scalp and causes itching and other uncomfortable symptoms. Children in urban areas or those from lower income families are most likely to develop the condition, primarily because of closer living conditions, poor hygiene, and lack of medical care. The condition is generally most severe in children with compromised immune systems. Although the names sound similar, ringworm of the scalp is not the same as ringworm which affects the body. Each condition is caused by an entirely separate organism.

Scalp ringworm can be treated with medicinal creams.
Scalp ringworm can be treated with medicinal creams.

Humans and some animals may become infected with scalp ringworm through contact with an infected person, dog, cat, or cow. It is caused by a fungal infection, not a worm, and spores given off by the fungus can be transmitted from one person to another. In most cases, contact alone is not enough to spread the infection. If, however, spores land in a vulnerable area, such as an area of inflamed or scratched skin, scalp ringworm can result.

Symptoms of scalp ringworm can include swollen lymph nodes.
Symptoms of scalp ringworm can include swollen lymph nodes.

In most cases, ringworm of the scalp is passed more readily among children because they are more likely to share items like combs and hats. This does not mean that adults can’t become infected, so both adults and children should take precautions. Early symptoms of the infection include redness, scaling, itching, crusting, and in some cases, hair loss. Swollen lymph nodes in the neck area can also occur.

Scalp ringworm can be transferred from an infected cat or dog.
Scalp ringworm can be transferred from an infected cat or dog.

All cases of scalp ringworm should be evaluated by a doctor to rule out a more serious condition. In most cases, ringworm can be diagnosed by simply looking at the infected area and taking note of any present symptoms. Sometimes an ultraviolet light will be used. When the light shines onto the affected area, the child’s head will glow a blue-green shade if there are certain bacteria present. Other times, a sample of the affected tissue will be taken and examined under a microscope.

All cases of scalp ringworm should be evaluated by a doctor to rule out a more serious condition.
All cases of scalp ringworm should be evaluated by a doctor to rule out a more serious condition.

Mild cases of scalp ringworm may not need any special treatment at all, although they should still be seen by a doctor. Moderate cases can generally be treated with special shampoos to prevent spread of the infection and an oral anti-fungal medication may be prescribed. Severe cases may require an oral steroid.

Most times, scalp ringworm does not cause any long-term effects to infected people. Although hair loss can be a symptom, once treatment has been completed, the infection is generally cured and hair will grow back. Patients should continue treatment for as long as recommended, and seek a follow-up visit with their doctor to be sure the infection has fully healed.

Early symptoms of scalp ringworm include itching, scaling and hair loss.
Early symptoms of scalp ringworm include itching, scaling and hair loss.

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