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Home > Patient & Family Resources > Health Library > Ringworm of the Scalp or Beard
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This topic is about ringworm of the scalp or beard. To learn more about other fungal infections, see the topics:
Ringworm is an infection on your skin, hair, or nails. It's caused by a fungus. The medical term for fungal infections is tinea, followed by a word that describes the location of infection. So ringworm of the scalp is tinea capitis, and ringworm of the beard is tinea barbae.
Ringworm of the scalp occurs all over the world and is most common in young children. Ringworm of the beard is not common.
Ringworm is caused by a fungus, not by a worm. The kinds of fungi (plural of fungus) that cause ringworm live and spread on the top layer of the skin and on the hair.
Ringworm is contagious. You can catch it by touching a person or animal that has it or by sharing personal items such as hats, combs, brushes, towels, and clothing. The fungi can survive for several months on people, animals, and personal items.
Children are more likely to get ringworm than adults. When adults do get infected, they often become carriers. This means they don't have symptoms but can pass ringworm to others.
Ringworm of the scalp or beard 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. That's why it's called "ringworm."
But ringworm doesn't always make a ring pattern. Sometimes it looks like:
Ringworm spreads easily from one person to another. If anyone in your family has the symptoms listed above, see your doctor.
Your doctor may be able to diagnose ringworm just by how the rash looks. To check for the ringworm fungus, your doctor may look at a hair or skin sample under a microscope. This test is called a KOH preparation.
If it's not clear that you have ringworm, or if the treatment isn't working, your doctor may do a skin culture to find out what kind of germ is causing the problem.
Your doctor will prescribe pills that will kill the fungus. And you can use special shampoo that may keep ringworm from spreading to others. But you need to use the shampoo along with the pills. By itself, the shampoo can't completely destroy the fungi causing the infection.
Depending on the medicine you take:
If you treat ringworm early, the hair in the bald spots will probably grow back. If you don't treat it, the bald spots could be permanent.
If your child gets ringworm, ask the school nurse or local health department how long your child needs to stay out of school. Usually children can go to school after they have started treatment with antifungal medicine. You don't need to shave your child's head.
Ringworm of the scalp or beard can come back after treatment has cleared the infection. To help prevent it from coming back:
Other Works Consulted
Elewski BE, et al. (2008). Terbinafine hydrochloride oral granules versus oral griseofulvin suspension in children with tinea capitis: Results of two randomized, investigator-blinded, multicenter, international, controlled trials. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 59(1): 41–54.
Grossberg R (2015). Fungal diseases of the skin. In ET Bope et al., eds., Conn's Current Therapy 2015, pp. 261–262. Philadelphia: Saunders.
Habif TP, et al. (2011). Tinea of the beard (tinea barbae). In Skin Disease: Diagnosis and Treatment, 3rd ed., pp. 288–289. Edinburgh: Saunders.
Habif TP, et al. (2011). Tinea of the scalp (tinea capitis). In Skin Disease: Diagnosis and Treatment, 3rd ed., pp. 284–287. Edinburgh: Saunders.
Higgins EM (2010). Tinea capitis. In MG Lebwohl et al., eds., Treatment of Skin Disease: Comprehensive Therapeutic Strategies, 3rd ed., pp. 736–739. Edinburgh: Saunders Elsevier.
Current as of:
March 3, 2021
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: Kathleen Romito MD - Family MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family MedicineMartin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
Current as of: March 3, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
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