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Tinea Capitis / Ringworm of the Body

Definition :
Ringworm of the scalp is one of several forms of ringworm, a type of fungal infection that affects the skin, nails and scalp. Ringworm of the scalp is most common in toddlers and school-age children and causes red, itchy, bald-looking patches on the scalp.

Also called tinea capitis, ringworm of the scalp is closely related to other skin conditions with similar names. "Tinea" is a type of fungus, and "capitis" is the Latin word for "head." Other common tinea infections include :

  • Ringworm of the body (tinea corporis). This form causes a red, scaly ring of rash on the top layer of your skin.
  • Athlete's foot (tinea pedis). This form affects the moist areas between your toes and sometimes on the rest of your foot.
  • Jock itch (tinea cruris). This form affects your genitals, inner upper thighs and buttocks.

Although unsightly, ringworm usually isn't serious, but it can be persistent and difficult to treat. Ringworm treatment includes antifungal medication and medicated shampoo. Ringworm can be passed on to others if not treated.

Causes :
Fungal infections, such as ringworm, are caused by microorganisms that become parasites on the body. These mold-like fungi (dermatophytes) attack the outer layer of skin on the scalp and invade the hair shaft, causing it to break.

Ringworm is contagious and can spread in the following ways :

  • Human to human. Ringworm often spreads through direct skin-to-skin contact with an infected person.
  • Object to human. Ringworm can spread through contact with objects or surfaces that an infected person or animal has touched, such as clothing, towels, bed linens, combs or brushes.
  • Animal to human. Dogs, cats, ferrets, rabbits, goats, pigs and horses can spread ringworm to humans. Your child can contract ringworm by grooming or petting an animal with ringworm.

Risk Factor :
Though adults can get ringworm of the scalp, it occurs most often in toddlers and school-age children. Outbreaks of ringworm are common in schools and child care centers where the infection easily spreads through close physical contact or by touching common items, such as door handles.

In addition, children with pets are at increased risk of ringworm. A pet, such as a cat or dog, can have the infection without showing any signs. Children can get the infection by touching or petting the animal.

Others factors that increase the risk of ringworm of the scalp include :

  • Small skin or scalp injuries
  • Ongoing wetness of the scalp, such as from sweating
  • Poor hygiene
  • Overcrowded living conditions

When to seek medical advice :
If you suspect your child has ringworm of the scalp, see your doctor. A prescription medication is needed to cure the infection.

Symptoms :
Ringworm of the scalp usually appears as one or more round patches of scaly skin where the hair has broken off at or just above the scalp. These patches slowly expand and may be tender or painful.

The patches on the scalp may also:

  • Appear gray or reddened
  • Have small black dots if your child has dark hair
  • Have brittle or fragile hair that easily pulls out

Ringworm of the scalp is persistent and contagious if not treated. It spreads easily through person-to-person contact or through contact with pets and shared objects.

Dignosis :
Ringworm of the scalp is one of several forms of ringworm, a type of fungal infection that affects the skin, nails and scalp. Ringworm of the scalp is most common in toddlers and school-age children and causes red, itchy, bald-looking patches on the scalp.

Also called tinea capitis, ringworm of the scalp is closely related to other skin conditions with similar names. "Tinea" is a type of fungus, and "capitis" is the Latin word for "head." Other common tinea infections include :

  • Ringworm of the body (tinea corporis). This form causes a red, scaly ring of rash on the top layer of your skin.
  • Athlete's foot (tinea pedis). This form affects the moist areas between your toes and sometimes on the rest of your foot.
  • Jock itch (tinea cruris). This form affects your genitals, inner upper thighs and buttocks.

Although unsightly, ringworm usually isn't serious, but it can be persistent and difficult to treat. Ringworm treatment includes antifungal medication and medicated shampoo. Ringworm can be passed on to others if not treated.

Complications :
In some cases, ringworm of the scalp causes kerion — a severe, painful inflammation of the scalp. Kerion appears as soft, raised swellings that drain pus and cause thick, yellow crusting on the scalp. Instead of breaking, the hair falls out or can be easily pulled out. Kerion may be caused by an overly vigorous reaction to the fungus and can lead to permanent scars and hair loss.

Treatment:
The main medication for ringworm of the scalp is griseofulvin (Grifulvin V, Gris-Peg), which is taken by mouth as a liquid or tablet. Your child may take this medication for four to six weeks. Medications you apply directly to the head aren't as effective because they're less able to penetrate the scalp and hair.

After starting the medication, you may not notice any changes in your child's condition right away. Your child still needs to continue taking the medication as directed by your doctor, however.

Prevention:
Ringworm is difficult to prevent. The fungus that causes ringworm is common and contagious even before signs and symptoms appear. However, you can help reduce the risk of ringworm by taking these steps :

  • Educate yourself and others. Be aware of the risk of ringworm from infected persons or pets. Tell your children about ringworm, what to watch for and how to avoid the infection.
  • Shampoo regularly. Be sure to wash your child's scalp regularly, especially after haircuts.
  • Keep clean. Be sure your child washes his or her hands often to avoid the spread of infection. Keep common or shared areas clean, especially in schools, child care centers, gyms and locker rooms.
  • Avoid infected animals. The infection often looks like a patch of skin where fur is missing. In some cases, though, you may not notice any signs of the disease. Ask your veterinarian to check your pets and domesticated animals for ringworm.
  • Don't share personal items. Don't let others use your clothing, towels, hairbrushes or other personal items. Refrain from borrowing these items from others as well.
 
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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