Tinea Capitis Differential Diagnoses

Updated: Feb 21, 2020
  • Author: Marc Zachary Handler, MD; Chief Editor: Dirk M Elston, MD  more...
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Diagnostic Considerations

Also consider the following:

  • Bacterial folliculitis
  • Dissecting folliculitis (folliculitis decalvans)
  • Abscess
  • Neoplasia
  • Pyoderma
  • Secondary syphilis

Seborrheic dermatitis occurs in older children and, unlike tinea capitis, does not cause hair loss. In some cases of tinea capitis, the erythematous scaly lesions closely resemble those seen in seborrheic dermatitis; however, in seborrheic dermatitis, hairs are not broken. Seborrheic dermatitis and psoriasis may cause accumulation of scales in matted masses on the scalp. Scales are more prominent in psoriasis, and hairs are not broken.

Impetigo may be difficult to distinguish from inflammatory tinea capitis, although pain is less severe in tinea capitis, and hairs tend to be seated firmly in impetigo. Alopecia areata also causes circumscribed areas of hair loss similar to tinea capitis, but alopecia areata does not cause scaling. Lesions may have an erythematous border in the early stages of the disease, but this reverses to normal color at later stages. The exclamation mark hairs seen in alopecia areata, in which broken hairs taper from the fractured end toward the skin surface, are pathognomonic.

In secondary syphilis, areas of alopecia have a characteristic moth-eaten appearance or resemble alopecia areata. Serologic testing for the presence of treponemal antibody (rapid plasma reagin and Treponema -specific tests, eg, microhemagglutination– Treponema pallidum test) and testing by special silver impregnation histochemical stain (Warthin-Starry stain) for the demonstration of treponemal organisms aid in the accurate diagnosis of syphilis.

The patient may present with a generalized eruption of itchy papules, particularly around the outer helix of the ear, occurring as a reactive phenomenon (an id response). These symptoms may start with the introduction of systemic treatment for tinea capitis; thus, they be mistaken for a drug reaction.

Differential Diagnoses