Ringworm of the Scalp

Ringworm is caused by a fungus, not a worm. It can be spread from animals (such as cats and dogs) or people infected with the fungus. The infection starts as a small, red, itchy sore. It grows larger, in the shape of a round, 1-to-2-inch ring with clear skin in the center. When the fungus infects the scalp, it causes round bald patches that are itchy and flaky. Sometimes these areas may scar and the hair may not grow back.

Ringworm of the scalp can be hard to treat. You will need to take oral medicine for 2 to 12 weeks. Be sure to follow special instructions for taking the medicine. Creams and shampoos don't work to clear up the infection.

Home care

Follow these guidelines when caring for yourself at home:

  • It may take up to 12 weeks for the infection to fully clear. To stop it from coming back, keep taking the medicine until the rash is gone and your healthcare provider has told you to stop. Throw out any combs, hairbrushes, barrettes, hats, or other products that have touched your head. Or you can disinfect these items by soaking them in diluted chlorine bleach. (Use 1/4 cup bleach per gallon of water). Clean towels, pillowcases, sheets, and other linens or clothing each time they may have touched the infected area. Wash them in hot water with a strong detergent. Dry them on high heat. Use a different towel to dry your head. Don’t use this towel on the rest of your body.

  • Ringworm of the scalp is very contagious. This means it spreads easily to other people. Other family members may need to be treated. Don't share hats, combs, hairbrushes, towels, pillowcases, or helmets while infected. Any child with ringworm of the scalp should stay out of school or day care until prescription medicine is started, or until the healthcare provider says it is OK to return. Your child should not play contact sports until the provider says it is OK.

  • Shampooing with a medicated shampoo will help keep the ringworm from spreading. It may lessen the chance of spreading it to other people. But it will not cure the ringworm.

  • You don't need to cut or shave the hair. This will not help.

  • Have your veterinarian check your pet for signs of ringworm.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised.

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Ringworm comes back

  • Scalp swelling or pain get worse

  • Fluid or pus drains from the rash

  • Fever in adults: 100.4°F (38.0°C) or above, lasting for 24 to 48 hours

  • Fever in a child (see Fever and children, below)

Fever and children

Always use a digital thermometer to check your child’s temperature. Never use a mercury thermometer.

For infants and toddlers, be sure to use a rectal thermometer correctly. A rectal thermometer may accidentally poke a hole in (perforate) the rectum. It may also pass on germs from the stool. Always follow the product maker’s directions for proper use. If you don’t feel comfortable taking a rectal temperature, use another method. When you talk to your child’s healthcare provider, tell him or her which method you used to take your child’s temperature.

Here are guidelines for fever temperature. Ear temperatures aren’t accurate before 6 months of age. Don’t take an oral temperature until your child is at least 4 years old.

Infant under 3 months old:

  • Ask your child’s healthcare provider how you should take the temperature.

  • Rectal or forehead (temporal artery) temperature of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

  • Armpit temperature of 99°F (37.2°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

Child age 3 to 36 months:

  • Rectal, forehead (temporal artery), or ear temperature of 102°F (38.9°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

  • Armpit temperature of 101°F (38.3°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

Child of any age:

  • Repeated temperature of 104°F (40°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

  • Fever that lasts more than 24 hours in a child under 2 years old. Or a fever that lasts for 3 days in a child 2 years or older.

© 2000-2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
Powered by Krames Patient Education - A Product of StayWell