Tinea Capitis Treatment & Management

Updated: Jun 13, 2017
  • Author: Marc Zachary Handler, MD; Chief Editor: Dirk M Elston, MD  more...
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Medical Care

Choice of treatment for tinea capitis is determined by the species of fungus concerned, the degree of inflammation, and in some cases, by the immunologic and nutritional status of the patient.

After microscopic or culture confirmation, medical therapy should be initiated. Systemic administration of griseofulvin provided the first effective oral therapy for tinea capitis, and resistance to the medication has remained minimal. [24, 25, 26] Dosing in the pediatric population is weight based. Recommended dosing is 20-25 mg/kg/day in single or two divided doses for microsized griseofulvin or 15-20 mg/kg/day in single dose or two divided doses for ultramicrosized griseofulvin. [27] The duration of treatment should be between 4 and 6 weeks.

Topical treatment alone usually is ineffective and is not recommended for the management of tinea capitis.

Newer antifungal medications, such as itraconazole, terbinafine, and fluconazole, have been reported as effective alternative therapeutic agents for tinea capitis. [24, 25] Of these agents, itraconazole and terbinafine are used most commonly. There may be some advantage to giving itraconazole with whole milk to increase absorption. [28]

Selenium sulfide shampoo may reduce the risk of spreading the infection early in the course of therapy by reducing the number of viable spores that are shed.



The causative fungal organisms of tinea capitis destroy hair and pilosebaceous structures, resulting in severe hair loss and scarring alopecia. Since tinea capitis is the most common dermatophyte infection in the pediatric population in the United States, without accurate diagnosis and proper treatment, the disease is detrimental, both physically and mentally, to children who are affected. Young patients with itchy scalp and patchy or total hair loss frequently are ridiculed, isolated, and bullied by classmates or playmates. In some cases, the disease can cause severe emotional impairment in vulnerable children and can destabilize family relationships.



Asymptomatic carriers should be detected and treated, since they are the continuous source of infection. Siblings and playmates of patients should avoid close physical contact and sharing of toys or other personal objects, such as combs and hairbrushes, since organisms can spread from one person to another and infectious agents can be transported to different classrooms within the same or in different schools. Shared facilities and objects also may promote spread of disease, both within the home and the classroom.

Public health measures regarding the source of infection should be a concern for controlling tinea capitis.

The source of some zoophilic species often is difficult to trace. Outbreaks of M canis can be extensive. Patients' cats and dogs must be inspected under a Wood lamp and referred for treatment. At times, animal control agencies are contacted to round up stray dogs and cats. T mentagrophytes may follow known contact with rodents, but often, no source can be identified.

As many as 14% of asymptomatic children have been found to be carriers of causative dermatophyte for tinea capitis in a primary school in Philadelphia. [29] Without therapy, 4% developed symptoms of infection, 58% remained culture positive, and 38% became culture negative within an average 2.3-month follow-up period.


Long-Term Monitoring

Household contacts of tinea capitis patients should be screened for clinically silent fungal carriage on the scalp. [30] Asymptomatic carriers, including adults and siblings in the family of patients with tinea capitis and patient caretakers and playmates, require active treatment, since they may act as a continuing source of infection. [31]

Shampoo and oral antimycotic therapy have been advocated for eradication of the carrier state. Studies have shown that most children who received griseofulvin plus biweekly shampooing with 2.5% selenium sulfide were negative for fungi on scalp culture after 2 weeks. Shampoo containing povidone-iodine has been shown to be more effective in producing negative cultures than shampoos containing econazole and selenium sulfide and than Johnson's Baby Shampoo. Therapeutic shampoos are applied twice weekly for 15 minutes for 4 consecutive weeks. Both povidone-iodine and selenium shampoos require further clinical study for the control of fungal spore loads in infected children and asymptomatic carriers.

Classrooms with young children (ie, kindergarten through second grade) must be evaluated for tinea capitis infection, since these children are most susceptible and have a greater risk of disease transmission.

Playmates in close physical contact with patients can spread tinea capitis organisms by sharing toys or personal objects including combs and hairbrushes. These individuals need to be evaluated for the presence of infection.