American Academy of Pediatrics – Section on Dermatology

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Released January 27, 2021

Do not treat tinea capitis with topical medications only.

Tinea capitis, a dermatophyte infection of the hair shafts of the scalp, is treated with antifungal agents. Topical treatments cannot penetrate the hair shaft itself, which is where the infection lies; thus, monotherapy with topical medications is insufficient to effectively treat the infection. This insufficient treatment can lead to increased health care costs resulting from multiple visits and the prescribing of ineffective medications. For this reason, when tinea capitis is suspected or is diagnosed, systemic treatment is warranted, most commonly with off-label griseofulvin or terbinafine. Terbinafine is effective for most types of tinea capitis and is less expensive than griseofulvin with improved compliance because of a shorter required course of treatment. Topical treatments such as ketoconazole shampoo and selenium sulfide shampoo may be used adjunctively to decrease carriage of viable spores, thus possibly decreasing the time to cure and decreasing shedding of the organism, which decreases risk of transmission of infection to other individuals.

These items are provided solely for informational purposes and are not intended as a substitute for consultation with a medical professional. Patients with any specific questions about the items on this list or their individual situation should consult their physician.

How The List Was Created

Members of the American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Dermatology submitted the top 5 topics for Choosing Wisely items based on a review of the literature and expert opinion of the most common dermatologic problems seen in primary care pediatrics. The list was then peer reviewed and approved by more than a dozen relevant AAP Committees, Councils and Sections. The AAP Executive Committee and Board of Directors granted final approval of the list.

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