An introduction to scalp ringworm
Scalp ringworm, or tinea capitis, is a variant of traditional ringworm which affects the scalp and head area. It is caused by the Candida albicans variant of fungi, which usually enters your system by being inhaled or permeating your skin. When it is provided with the right conditions, such as dampness, darkness or warmth, it can reproduce extremely quickly triggering an adverse reaction in our skin.
Scalp ringworm is particularly unpleasant to experience, and can make sufferers feel very low and stressed due to its effects on our hair, occasionally causing bald patches to appear. While 10-20% of the population are likely to contract ringworm within their lifetime1, scalp ringworm is not as common and is normally found in young children usually in busy inner-city areas, although it can affect anyone at any age.2
The causes of scalp ringworm
Scalp ringworm shares many of its underlying causes with other forms of ringworm. It is caused by the same strain of fungus, Candida albicans, and it can be spread by animals as well as humans.
- Weak Immune system: It cannot be stated enough how important the immune system is to you when it comes to fighting off pathogens and other possible threats. However, if your immune system is weakened, either by a pre-existing illness, such as diabetes, hypothyroidism, or by your lifestyle choices, then it can make you susceptible to contracting fungal infections such as scalp ringworm. This is why you should try to boost your immune systems and avoid placing any extra stress on your adrenal glands
- Poor nutrition: What you eat can influence the severity of your scalp ringworm symptoms. It has been mentioned that your intestines contain small amounts of Candida albicans, in the form of a yeast that helps to breakdown certain food products. This yeast is regulated by the amount of friendly bacteria in your gut. When you eat sugary or processed foods, you are feeding the Candida yeast in your stomach, making you more vulnerable to a fungal infection when the yeast in your gut begins to multiply. If you try to reduce the amount of trigger foods in your diet and focus on anti-fungal foods such as garlic and onions, then it might help to alleviate some of your more uncomfortable symptoms
- Stress: You might not realise it, but stress can have a profound impact on your immune system. When you experience stress on a regular basis, it can trick your immune system into believing that you are in a life or death situation. In response to your plight, your immune system will release a wave of inflammatory chemicals. These chemicals will work to dilate your blood vessels and raise your blood pressure, as your body will be expecting you to engage in physical activity. While this process is underway, your body will raise your blood sugar levels – this can provide the Candida yeast with more food, enabling them to reproduce more effectively. Emotional distress can also upset your digestion and liver function, weakening your skin cells and making your epidermis easier to permeate
- Poor Hygiene: Poor hygiene can often be a causal factor of scalp ringworm, particularly if you sweat excessively or leave our hair wet. The Candida yeast thrives in damp, humid environments, making you more vulnerable to fungal infections if you provide the yeast with its optimum growing conditions. This is why you should wash your hair regularly and avoid leaving it wet, drying it straight after you get out of the shower in order to avoid contracting any infections
- Direct contact: Directly interacting with affected parties will often result in you contracting the skin condition yourself. This is because scalp ringworm is highly contagious and can be spread through skin on skin contact, which can explain why breakouts are so common in busy environments such as schools, offices or swimming pools. It would be advisable to avoid interaction with people who have the disease, as well as pets that are infected with ringworm
- Indirect contact: Indirect contact can be something as simple as sharing a towel with an infected sufferers. Fungal spores can fester in bed linen, clothing and hairbrushes especially, often permeating the skin of whoever touches that particular item and then transferring over to a new potential victim. This is why it is often advisable to sterilise hair brushes and wash all clothing, linen and towels on a regular basis.
The symptoms of scalp ringworm
Scalp ringworm normally occurs in the head and scalp area, although the eyebrows and eyelashes can sometimes be affected as well.
The symptoms are usuallly similar to the typical symptoms of ringworm, however in rare circumstances there can be additional complications, such as scarring or the prevention of hair follicles growing back.
- Balding: The fungus responsible for ringworm, Candida albicans, is a known dermatophyte that feeds on keratin, the main compound that is essential to the structure of hair follicles. As a result, hair around the affected area can become weaker, often breaking off at the root and causing bald patches to appear
- Rash: A rash normally appears as a reaction to skin irritation. In the case of ringworm, circular rashes often occur, giving the impression of an angry red worm curled in on itself, perhaps attributing to the naming of the condition
- Skin discolouration: Skin discolouration can occur when the fungi on your skin start to influence the pigmentation of your skin. This can be known as tinea versicolour
- Dry, flaky skin: The structure of our skin can become weaker when we are suffering from a fungal infection, making skin dryer and more prone to flaking. In scalp ringworm, this symptom is sometimes mistaken as dandruff, meaning that the infection often goes undiagnosed until more serious symptoms present themselves
- Blistering: Pus filled blisters can appear with scalp ringworm, causing irritation and itchiness. It is important not to scratch these blisters at it will only exacerbate your existing symptoms.
- Stress: Stress is an unfortunate psychological symptom that may be especially prevalent in outbursts of scalp ringworm. Experiencing hair loss can be very upsetting and distressing; however it is important that you try to remain calm. Stress can be very debilitating for your physical symptoms and may even exaggerate your episode of scalp ringworm.
There are a number of home treatments and preventions to help ease and reduce the symptoms of scalp ringworm. However, if you find that your symptoms are becoming more persistent or pronounced, then it is important that you seek medical advice from your doctor to avoid further complications.
- Relax: If you are suffering from a fungal skin infection, it is important that you try and find ways of lowering your stress levels. Stress, as well as being unpleasant to experience, can be very damaging for the immune system. Try to find ways of naturally calming yourself, whether this involves taking a few moments to yourself, or setting aside crucial ‘me-time’ throughout the day. You could always try engaging in an exercise like yoga, as this has been proven to have a calming influence on the body, teaching you proper breathing techniques and gentle ways of soothing your emotional distress
- Good nutrition: What you eat can play a role in influencing your ringworm symptoms, particularly if your diet is high in sugary, fatty foods that the bad bacteria in your gut love to feast on. Try to cut down on these food products and instead focus on anti-fungal foods that will help to inhibit the growth of fungal spores. Increase your intake of anti-oxidant rich fruit and vegetables – you can do this by blitzing up a smoothie or replacing your usual snack with dried fruit alternatives. Try to incorporate more garlic and ginger into your cooking – these are natural anti-fungal herbs that may work to inhibit the growth of the Candida yeast. Make sure you are drinking plenty of water and if you feel the urge for a mid-morning cup of coffee, try our caffeine-free substitute, Bambu!
- Avoid indirect contact: Inanimate items such as hairbrushes or bed linen can be potent sources of the Candida fungus. Hairbrushes are an ideal breeding ground for bacteria and fungal spores. If you are worried about catching the infection, then it is important that you take preventative steps by sterilising your hairbrush. You can do this by removing the hair from your brush and soaking it overnight in a diluted bleach solution. This should kill any spores or bacteria lingering in the bristles, and reduce your risk of catching scalp ringworm. If you have scalp ringworm, or are worried about contracting the infection, then it is important that you do not share clothing, towels, or bed linen with anyone. Wash your material belongings regularly, taking care to dry them soon after they come out of the wash to avoid providing a suitable environment for bacteria and spores
- Avoid direct contact: Whether this means spending less time with Fido or isolating yourself from your friends for a little while, it is important to remember how contagious scalp ringworm is. If you have a child infected with the condition, be sure to keep them off school until there is no risk of contamination, otherwise you could end up infecting their entire class. Pets also carry the ringworm contagion so if they are suffering from this illness, get them treated as soon as possible. If you are an active person who likes to build up a sweat, make sure that you are showering regularly to discourage the growth of bacteria on your skin. It is also important to dry yourself thoroughly, both your skin and your hair, as fungal spores thrive in warm, damp environments
- Apple cider vinegar: Apple cider vinegar is a wonderful remedy for scalp ringworm as the anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties of the liquid actively work to attack and destroy the Candida yeast, reducing your symptoms and treating the main cause of your infection. You can take apple cider vinegar internally to support the immune system but if you are interested in taking it topically, you must dilute first with water before applying to your scalp. Your Health Food Store supply a range of organic apple cider vinegar products, so they might be worth checking out if you are considering this option
- Garlic: Garlic is a powerful herb, renowned for its anti-fungal abilities. The herb naturally contains a compound known as ‘allicin’ which can work to attack the source of your infection. You can apply garlic topically once diluting into a paste, or you could try taking Allicin max, an allicin supplement available at Your Health Food Store.
There are a range of herbal solutions available to relieve the more troubling and persistent symptoms of scalp ringworm. It is important to speak to your doctor if you find that your symptoms are persisting after more than two weeks, or you could risk contracting further complications such as cellulitis.
- Molkosan®: Molkosan® is usually taken to encourage the growth of friendly bacteria in your digestive tract. This can be very beneficial when you are suffering from a fungal infection, as the friendly bacteria in your gut regulate population of Candida yeast. An increase of friendly bacteria may help to avoid any overgrowths that may make you susceptible to a fungal infection
- Echinaforce®: This treatment works to support your immune system and maintain your immune function. Echinaforce® is suitable for anyone over the age of 12 but should not be taken if you plan on operating heavy machinery, or are pregnant or breastfeeding.
- Neem shampoo: Neem shampoo is traditionally used to treat dry, flaky scalps and is made using extracts of neem leaf, a plant that has been known to have very soothing and beneficial properties for the skin. Just be aware that this product may not be suitable if you are pregnant, breastfeeding or allergic to nuts.
- Utricalcin: Utricalcin can be taken to strengthen your nails and hair, and contains natural nettle extracts. While it might not be a good idea to take utricalcin while you have scalp ringworm, once the infection has ran its course it might be a good idea to start taking the remedy to revitalise and support your weakened hair follicles.
Conventional medicines often focus on killing the candida yeast and relieving the external symptoms that may be causing you physical and emotional distress. Just be aware that most medication can be associated with a variety of unfortunate side-effects, so do not hesitate to speak to your doctor if you have any concerns.
- Anti-fungal creams/gels: Anti-fungal creams are available over the counter and are usually the first course of treatment that your doctor will recommend. However, should your symptoms still persist for more than a fortnight, you should go back and speak to your doctor as a stronger course of medication may be required
- Steroid creams: If a course of over the counter remedies does not clear up your infection, your doctor may suggest a steroid cream instead. These creams are stronger than their pharmacy-bought counterparts, but they should not be taken persistently for more than a couple of weeks, otherwise you may be exposed to a range of unhappy side-effects
- Anti-fungal tablets: Anti-fungal tablets may only be prescribed if a course of steroid creams has not eliminated your symptoms. These should be taken exactly as specified by your doctor, although a few different types may cause a number of unpleasant side-effects.