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What is a Kerion?

By J.M. Willhite
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Kerion is an infectious condition that is caused by scalp ringworm. It's a pus filled, raised bump that typically forms on the scalp, though it can also form on the beard area. It results from a fungal infection of those hair follicles. The underlying condition, scalp ringworm, can manifest in anyone of any age or ethnicity, but children are most frequently diagnosed with kerion. With appropriate testing, a confirmed diagnosis of kerion can be made and appropriate treatments prescribed.

Scalp ringworm, also known as tinea capitis, is a fungus that belongs to the mold family and prospers in warm, moist areas. Individuals with poor hygiene habits or who have superficial abrasions on their scalp or near hair follicles are at greater risk of becoming infected with scalp ringworm. Highly contagious, these infections are caused by fungi called dermatophytes and are transmitted via close contact with contaminated individuals, animals, or inanimate objects such as pillows, clothing, and brushes. Symptoms associated with scalp ringworm include itching, scaly, inflamed lesions, and the development of black, or dark colored, dots on the scalp.

Classified as a complication of scalp ringworm, it is speculated that kerion develops as either an allergic reaction or an overzealous immuno-response to the presence of the tinea capitis infection. Kerion manifests as raised, pus-filled, inflamed sores on the scalp that are squishy to the touch. These sores can break open and drain, and, if left untreated, can result in permanent hair loss and scarring of the affected area. Raised lymph nodes on the base of the scalp, back of the neck, and behind the ears can be indicative of the presence of kerion.

A confirmed diagnosis of kerion can be made just by appearance, but tests are often preferred to confirm scalp ringworm and rule out any secondary conditions. Tests may include the scrapping of the skin in the affected area, a fungal culture, or bacterial culture. A test called Wood’s lamp utilizes ultraviolet light to identify the presence of certain dermatophytes known to cause scalp ringworm.

Treatment options include the use of oral anti-fungal medications and corticosteroids to control inflammation. Topical medications are generally not utilized since the fungi reside deep in the skin where topical creams can't penetrate. Medicated shampoo is employed to prevent the spread of infection and is effective when used as prescribed. In most cases, treatment regimens last from six to eight weeks in order to alleviate symptoms and eliminate both the kerion and underlying infection.

The overall prognosis for individuals with kerion is positive if appropriate medical attention is sought and conscientious personal hygiene practices are employed. There are no effective home or folk remedies for neither scalp ringworm nor kerion. Cases of scalp ringworm can be persistent, but its concentration eases with each recurrence before finally subsiding permanently at the onset of puberty.

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