One of the most common forms of scalp fungus is tinea capitis, also known as ringworm of the scalp. It is caused by a fungus and not by a worm, as the name suggests. Another common form of scalp fungus is Pityrosporum ovale. The P. ovale fungus is normally present in small amounts on our scalp, but when the fungus experiences overgrowth, it causes the dry, itchy flaking we commonly refer to as dandruff.
Symptoms of a scalp fungus can vary from reddened, itching, painful circular patches to excessive dry, itching, flaking all over the scalp. Areas of hair loss (alopecia) may be noted. Tinea capitis is more commonly seen in children, but P. ovale fungal infections may be seen in all age brackets. Tinea capitis is seen quite frequently in the African American population. If the individual has been infected with the tinea capitis fungus for quite some time, there may be pockets of pus (infection) formation noted.
Any physician treating a fungal infection of the scalp should be sure to differentiate exactly which fungal infection is involved so proper treatment measures can be taken. Examination with a Wood’s lamp, which is an ultraviolet-filtered light, should be used to make sure a fungus is present in the affected area. A Wood’s lamp will cause the fungus to glow a bright bluish green. Also, microscopic examination of the hair follicle should be done to look for other possible fungal involvement, since some fungal infections will not glow readily under the Wood’s lamp. Fungal cultures should also be taken to identify the fungus causing the problem properly.
Treatment may be achieved by several different means. Over-the-counter shampoos, such as Nizoral, are quite effective against the Pityrosporum ovale fungus. Tinea capitis can be harder to treat, requiring both oral and topical medications to combat the problem. One common oral medication is grisofulvin; it must be prescribed by a doctor. Often, cortisone creams are used to help combat the itching associated with the fungal infection.
Tinea capitis may be spread by person-to-person contact. Children should be taught not to share caps, hair brushes and combs. Pillows and bed linens should be washed thoroughly and dried in a hot dryer to kill the fungus. The tinea capitis fungus is resilient and can live for long periods of time just sitting in that comb on the bathroom shelf. Hair utensils should be washed and disinfected or replaced altogether. P. ovale fungal infections are usually controllable with use of a fungal shampoo. Always follow the instructions as to how often to use them.
Because fungi reproduce by releasing spores into the atmosphere, it is commonplace to find them virtually anywhere in our daily environment. Recurrence of the problem may happen if proper cleaning and disinfecting measures are not taken.