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  5. Fungal Scalp Infection (Or Tinea Capitis) - How To Identify & Treat It?

Are you dealing with an itchy, flaky or patchy scalp? Then trust us when we say - don’t take it lightly. While there could be minor reasons behind this, one of the possibilities is that you may have a fungal scalp infection called tinea capitis.

So, why do you need to take this condition seriously? Because, it is a highly contagious infection that can spread from one person to another through combs, hair tools and towels. So what exactly is it and how can you prevent or treat it? Let’s find out.

Symptoms Of Tinea Capitis

Tinea capitis is a fungal infection that typically affects the scalp and hair shaft. It is also known as ‘ringworm of the scalp’ because of how it looks. This infection is determined by circular marks on the scalp. It is more common in children but can affect adults too.

An itchy and patchy scalp is the most common symptom of tinea capitis. Other common signs include red patches on the scalp and bald spots. You may also notice black dots in areas where your hair has broken off.

Other signs that you may have tinea capitis:

Causes Of Tinea Capitis

A family of fungi called dermatophytes are responsible for the development of this fungal infection on the scalp. They prefer living under warm and moist climates and tend to find their home on the fingernails, hair and other topmost layers of the skin.

How can your body contribute to giving the fungus a home?

  • Poor hygiene
  • Using combs, towels or pillows of an infection person
  • Touching the skin of an infected person
  • Touching house pets/animals that may be infected

Who Is Likely To Develop Tinea Capitis?

Tinea capitis is more common among children, although it can affect adults as well. Children between 6-10 years of age are more prone to developing this infection.


Diagnosis And Treatment

It is not difficult to determine that a person has developed tinea capitis. The Wood’s Lamp [1] is a popular way used by dermatologists to check for signs of this infection.

Sometimes, doctors prefer taking a sample of your hair to confirm that you have developed the infection. This hair sample will be sent to a lab for further testing to check for the presence of fungi. It is done under a microscope that may take up to three weeks before confirming that you have got the infection.

1. Oral Medication

Antifungal oral medications that are usually prescribed by doctors to treat tinea capitis include griseofulvin and terbinafine hydrochloride. However, please note that these medications may have adverse side-effects. [2]

Side-effects of griseofulvin:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Sun sensitivity
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Rashes
  • Hives
  • Faintness
  • Allergic reactions

Side-effects of terbinafine hydrochloride:

  • Itching
  • Rash
  • Hives
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Liver issues
  • Allergic reaction


If you notice any of these side-effects, stop medication and talk to your doctor.

2. Topical Treatments

Certain antifungal shampoos may be prescribed by your doctor to remove and prevent the spreading of the fungus. This treatment is usually used in combination with oral medication. Your doctor may prescribe a shampoo that contains ketoconazole or selenium sulfide. [3]

3. Natural Methods

Here is a list of natural remedies to help you reduce the symptoms of tinea capitis:

A. Soap And Water

Keeping the affected area clean is as important as treating it. This prevents the spread of the infection. Before applying any home remedies, make sure you have gently cleaned the affected area with soap and water.

B. Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar has strong antifungal properties that may help in treating tinea capitis.

  • Soak a cotton ball in apple cider vinegar solution and gently apply to the affected area.
  • Repeat 3 times a day.

C. Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil for years has been used to treat various bacterial, fungal and other microbial infections.

  • Apply tea tree oil to the affected area using a cotton pad or ball.
  • Apply 2-3 times a day.
  • If you have sensitive skin, mix a few drops of tea tree oil with a carrier oil to avoid allergic reactions.

D. Coconut Oil

Another effective topical remedy that is easily available is coconut oil. Coconut oil possesses antifungal properties that can prove to be effective in reducing the symptoms of tinea capitis.

  • Warm the coconut oil and apply to the affected area using a cotton ball.
  • Apply it 3 times a day for effective results.
Woman applying coconut oil

E. Turmeric

Turmeric is known to inhibit the growth of fungus.

  • Mix a small amount of turmeric powder with a few drops of water to make it a paste.
  • Apply to the affected area 3 times a day.

F. Aloe Vera

Aloe vera may soothe the symptoms that come with tinea capitis like itching and redness. Apply aloe vera gel to the affected area 3 times a day. Topical ointments that contain aloe vera can also be used.

G. Powdered Licorice

Research suggests that powdered licorice can be used as an alternative treatment for fungal infections.

  • Boil 8 teaspoons of licorice powder in a cup of water.
  • Let it boil for 10 minutes on low gas.
  • Stir till it becomes a paste.
  • After the paste cools down, apply to the affected area 2 times a day for 10 minutes.

Risk Factors And Complications

  • Children exposed to other infected children.
  • Overcrowded neighborhoods.
  • Children with greasy/sweaty scalps.
  • Playing with an infected animal.
  • Not paying attention to other infected parts of the body.
  • Sharing combs, pillow covers and other personal hygiene tools with others.
  • Those with a weaker immune system are more susceptible to getting infected.
  • If you have had tinea capitis in the past, there is a chance that you may get it again.

Word of caution:

Tinea capitis may result in hair loss if not attended to in its early stages. There is also a chance of the infection spreading to the rest of the scalp if left untreated. [4]

When To Visit Your Doctor?

If you don’t see improvement with the help of natural remedies, visit your doctor. It is always recommended that you visit your doctor in case of infections like these.

If you get it treated on time, the chances of you developing bald patches is lower. The infection will also be under control and won’t spread to other parts of your scalp.

How To Prevent Tinea Capitis?

  • Keep yourself clean and dry.
  • Take a shower post work-out or exercise and put on clean and dry clothes.
  • Avoid using/sharing combs, pillow covers of a suspect.
  • If you have already developed tinea capitis, make sure the affected area is clean and dry to prevent the infection from spreading.
  • It is difficult to determine whether or not an animal has the infection. However, an easier way would be if you notice bald patches on the animal’s coat. [5]

Are There Other Types Of Fungal Scalp Infections?

Malassezia is a group of fungi that are naturally present on the surface of the skin. They are opportunistic in nature, in the sense that they usually do not cause any harm to the skin. However, they can contribute to scalp infections like seborrheic dermatitis under certain conditions. They can also worsen other conditions like psoriasis.

Wrapping Up

Now you know that Tinea capitis is a fungal infection of the scalp that results in the formation of circular marks on the skin. It is highly contagious, and thus proper care and precautions are recommended. A number of treatments are available to fight them, which include oral, topical and home remedies.

Begin By Knowing Your Skin

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