Advertisement

How do you treat ringworm of the scalp?

Preschoolers are prone to ringworm of the scalp due to their relative lack of personal hygiene.
Preschoolers are prone to ringworm of the scalp due to their relative lack of personal hygiene.
Ableimages/Getty Images

Ah, the preschool years. Youngsters learn their way around crayons, find that carpet squares can make adequate substitutes for their beds at home during nap time, and savor the oddly appealing combination of grape Kool-Aid and soda crackers. There is little to worry over in these young lives yet, save perhaps the fleeting humiliation of having to take one's place in the back of the line after failing to successfully tie your shoes. Eventually, though, the sting of embarrassment becomes a forgotten memory.

Luckily, this unrefined sense of humiliation mitigates the fact that preschool-age kids are likely to contract ringworm of the scalp. This common skin infection is easily transmitted in a number of ways: through person to person contact, person to object contact and animal to person contact [source: Mayo Clinic]. (It can also show up on other parts of the body.) Young children attending preschool together tend to meet many of these criteria. They are likelier to play with pets at home or handle dead animals, they share close quarters and touch the same objects -- at an age where personal hygiene is of little concern. As a result, once a kid turns up at preschool with ringworm of the scalp, the probability of a school-wide outbreak is high.

Advertisement

Advertisement

The condition's prevalence amongst the preschool set doesn't mean that it only targets the young. Anyone can contract ringworm of the scalp (and its sister infections, jock itch and athlete's foot). What exactly is this condition, how can you recognize it and what are the available treatments for it? Read on to learn more about ringworm of the scalp and how to get rid of it.

A ringworm infection on the skin. An infection of the scalp will look similar, but in an area of hair loss.
A ringworm infection on the skin. An infection of the scalp will look similar, but in an area of hair loss.
©iStockphoto.com/alejandrophotography

Despite its arguably sickening name, ringworm of the scalp (tinea corporis or capitis) is a fungal infection, not a physical intrusion by a parasitic worm. Generally, the type of ringworm infection is based on the type and size of the fungal spore responsible for the infection. Microsporosis is small spore ringworm; trichophytosis is large-spore ringworm.

While ringworm of the scalp is a common malady, another variety of tinea corporis, ringworm of the beard, is much rarer. Both conditions get their names from the appearance of the infection. In both cases, a circular bald patch shows up on the skin. The interior of the patch can heal as the infection spreads outward, creating the appearance of a raised ring [source: WebMD].

Advertisement

Advertisement

This isn't the only symptom or sign of a ringworm infection; bald patches can form in other ways as well. On dark-haired individuals, these patches often contain the appearance of black dots, which are actually the stubble that remains in areas where the hair has broken off just above the scalp. This is a symptom of black dot ringworm infection, where the fungi affect the actual hair. As the fungi penetrates the hair shaft and colonizes the hair follicle, it eventually eats through the hair, causing it to break off. The hair localized at the infected area may also be easily pulled out.

Ringworm infections can also present as red or gray scaly areas that can itch like the devil. Small, blister-like bumps can also present in the infected area. Part of the body's attempt to ward off the foreign invaders is the production of pus at the infected area. As a result, lesions filled with pus can form, causing both itching and pain [source: New York Times]. These lesions are called kerion and are actually an allergic reaction to the fungal attack [source: University of Michigan].

So what do you do when you find your child incessantly scratching at a red, scaly bald patch that's filled with tiny bumps? Read the next page to learn about treating ringworm of the scalp.

Ahhhh, the relief.
Ahhhh, the relief.
Photodisc/Getty Images

Relax, relax. Because of its common prevalence and fungus source, treating ringworm of the scalp is a fairly straightforward and easy affair.

A physician will pluck a few hairs from the scalp for examination under a microscope. This test should determine if the infection is ringworm. Often, the symptoms are so obvious that the doctor need only inspect the site to make a ringworm diagnosis.

Advertisement

Advertisement

Once it's determined that ringworm is the culprit, the physician will prescribe an antifungal medication. Most commonly, antifungals are prescribed in pill form. By introducing the medicine into the bloodstream, it can be carried to the source of the infection. Topical antifungal creams, by contrast, don't penetrate the barrier provided by the skin enough to make it to the site of infection. The medication prescribed may last for several weeks, and you should make sure the prescription is taken in full -- even if the symptoms disappear beforehand [source: Mayo Clinic].

In the meantime, your doctor may recommend an antifungal shampoo to combat the infection as it presents on the scalp. Some major shampoo brands like Selsun and Head and Shoulders make antifungal shampoos that work well on ringworm infections. Using antifungal shampoos can treat the infection enough so that the patient can make his or her way back to school (or work) [source: University of Michigan].

It's a good idea to get rid of any personal items like brushes or combs that have come in contact with the infected area. Ringworm is often transmitted from an object to a person.

As for the hair that's been lost, the bald patches should grow back within six to 12 months of the beginning of treatment. If a kerion -- those pus-filled lesions -- develops, it can cause scarring and permanent hair loss, however. As they say, the best defense is a good offense: Keep an eye on your child for early signs of ringworm of the scalp, make sure they learn to wash their hands regularly at an early age and act quickly when symptoms appear. These measures can help prevent a troublesome bout of ringworm infection not just for your child, but for his or her entire school. Of course, they won't feel self-conscious about it until many years after the fact.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

Sources

  • Medline Plus. "Tinea capitis." October 3, 2008.http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000878.htm
  • The Mayo Clinic. "Ringworm (scalp)." January 30, 2009.http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/ringworm/DS00892
  • The New York Times. "Ringworm." May 1, 2007.http://health.nytimes.com/health/guides/disease/ringworm/overview.html
  • University of Michigan Health System. "Ringworm of the scalp (tinea capitis)." June 9, 2008.http://www.med.umich.edu/1libr/pa/pa_tineacap_hhg.htm
  • WebMD. "Ringworm of the scalp or beard - topic overview." April 24, 2007.http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/tc/ringworm-of-the-scalp-or-beard-topic-overview

Advertisement


Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement