Tinea is the most common type of fungal infection in humans. Tinea capitis, also known as scalp ringworm, is most common in children but can also affect teenagers and adults. It is caused by mold-like fungi called dermatophytes. Kerion is a highly inflammatory type of tinea infection of the scalp.
Tinea capitis is often known as “fungus hair” although the fungi originate at the skin or scalp, not the hair.
The symptoms of fungus hair include round and scaly lesions of the scalp. The lesions may appear in one part or on one side of the head or all over. The areas may appear red and inflamed.
Balding may occur where the hair has broken or fallen off. There may be an appearance of dandruff from tiny skin particles chaffed off by the lesions.
Other symptoms may include tiny black spots on the scalp, dry scaling, matted hair and yellow crusting or honeycomb appearance of the scalp. Not all individuals experience itching.
The presence of pus inside the scalp lesions is unusual and indicative of kerion. Kerion can cause permanent hair loss, but can be treated with prednisone.
Tinea capitis is contagious and can be passed on through direct contact or indirect contact through objects, especially brushes or combs. An infected person may show no symptoms but still be a carrier.
If diagnosed, it's advisable to avoid contact with other people and animals until the infection is resolved. Children with fungus hair do not need to stay home from school if precautions are used, but parents should notify the class teacher.
Tinea capitis is diagnosed based by the appearance of the scalp and tests such as the potassium hydroxide (KOH) test and the fungal culture test. The KOH test uses a small sample of infected skin, usually taken with a wet gauze or toothbrush. The fungal culture test is slower but more sensitive.
The type of test that is performed will be determined by the type of facility you use: a private dermatology clinic, a hospital-based clinic or a small practice. Large hospital-based clinics have more resources, while small practices may run a KOH test first and perform the more complex test if there is any doubt about diagnosis.
Using anti-fungal shampoo and sulfur soap can minimize the extent of infection. Using anti-fungal shampoo two to three times per week for four weeks may be sufficient treatment. If not, oral medication may be required. Determine your treatment course in consultation with a doctor.
Good hygiene is the best preventative measure. Shampoo and wash your scalp thoroughly, especially after a haircut. Make sure the objects that come in contact with your hair, like combs and towels, are thoroughly washed and and dried, and avoid borrowing these items from others.
You can have your scalp health checked every six months or so and occasionally treat your hair with anti-fungal products. However, do not overuse anti-fungal products. Over-use can increase the number of microorganisms in your hair.