Fungal infection of the scalp usually affects children under 10 years old, although more rarely, it may affect older children and adults. The medical terms are tinea capitis, where the scalp is infected, and tinea barbae, where the beard or mustache are infected. It can cause itching and patchy hair loss, with ring-shaped areas of redness and flakiness.
Yellow crusts may form if left untreated, and this may cause hair to become matted. Hair loss is usually temporary until it's treated, but the appearance can cause distress, and the scalp can feel very itchy and a bit sore, if left untreated.
It is contagious with long periods of close contact, for example, with siblings. It can contaminate hairbrushes and combs, towels, clothes, and even headrests and pillowcases. Family members should be treated together to reduce the chance of re-infection.
Some people may carry the infection and pass it on without suffering obvious symptoms themselves. Your dog or cat may be a possible carrier. The fungus can survive weeks to months on shared household items or furniture.
If you think you have a fungal infection, you should book a routine appointment with your doctor.
It's a good idea to take family members to the appointment in case they need treatment, too, or your doctor may suggest that all the family be treated, as some people can pass the fungal infection on without getting any symptoms themselves.
You should see your doctor urgently if you have a large swollen patch with loss of hair - it will feel sore and soft and may discharge pus. This could be a kerion, an inflammation, or an abscess caused by a fungal infection that requires specialist treatment.
Your doctor will examine your scalp or beard. This condition is treated with antifungal medication, and they may send off any flakes or affected hairs from the scalp to confirm the diagnosis.
Treatment options depend on how severe and widespread the infection is. If tests on the hair or scalp prove positive for a fungal infection, you may be offered antifungal medication in the form of tablets for adults or liquid for children. This will either be griseofulvin or terbinafine, depending on the strain of fungus identified and will be given for 4 weeks initially. The doctor may suggest an antifungal shampoo or cream alongside this to reduce passing the infection on to others.
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