Ringworm, also known as dermatophytosis or tinea, is a fungal infection of the skin. It appears as a red rash with a circular formation like a ring, hence the name, “ringworm.” Tinea corporis or ringworm of the body is very common and mostly affects the arms, legs and trunk of the body.
Ringworm is highly contagious, as it can be transferred from one person to another through skin-to-skin contact. Touching clothing, animals or objects infected by the fungus, such as combs, can also spread the ringworm.
This fungal infection affects people of all ages, and even animals. It does not go away on its own and it may take weeks or months to get rid of it with treatment. A ringworm remains very contagious for as long as it goes untreated. It is important to get treated immediately to avoid spreading the infection to others. If treated within 24-48 hours of first noticing the symptoms (incubation period), the infection may not spread.
There are several ways to recognize a ringworm infection, the symptoms may also vary depending on its location on the body. Some common symptoms are:
The name ‘ringworm’ can be misleading. It is not caused by a ring or a worm. It is in fact caused by a human dermatophyte or type of microscopic fungal organism that invades the dead top layer of the skin. Ringworm is also easily spread in the following ways:
Direct Contact: Microsporum, Trichophyton and Epidermophyton are three main types of fungi that cause ringworm. They live in the soil and cause the infection when a person or animal comes into contact with the infected soil.
Person-to-Person Contact: Ringworm is commonly spread through skin-to-skin contact with an infected person. Children are at a higher risk for ringworm, especially since their activities involve body contact play and sharing items, such as toys.
Animals: Animals, especially pets, that are infected with the fungus can pass the infection on to their owners or people that touch or play with them.
Contact with Infected Items: The clothing, bedding, personal care items such as combs, shower walls and public swimming pools are items or objects that can transfer the ringworm-causing fungus to humans.
In addition to children, the risk of ringworm is high in people with a compromised or weakened immune system. They include people with diabetes, cancer, HIV and leukemia. Other risk factors include:
Ringworm can be properly diagnosed by a doctor. Your doctor will examine the affected area under a fluorescent light. If the skin glows, it means the fungus was detected by the light. A KOH examination, fungal culture or skin biopsy may also be used to make a diagnosis. Once diagnosed with the infection, your doctor will treat you immediately with medication.
Topical Medication: Anti-fungal medicine, such as an antifungal cream, lotion or powder may be used several times a day to treat a mild ringworm. Clotrimazole, terbinafine and miconazole are antifungal creams commonly used to cure ringworm.
Oral Medication: More severe ringworm infections need to be treated with oral antifungal pills. Itraconazole, griseofulvin and terbinafine are among the common antifungal pills used for treatment. Pills usually work faster than external treatments.
Antifungal Shampoo: Ringworm of the scalp can be treated by washing the hair with an antifungal shampoo. Oral medication may be needed in combination to effectively rid the scalp of the fungus.
Again, the location and the severity of the ringworm are factors that determine how long it takes to get rid of ringworm. Once you use the medication as prescribed, it should take about two to four weeks to start seeing improvement in the condition. Check back with your doctor if symptoms persist after this period.
Self-care may be done at home in addition to any medication prescribed by your doctor. The following may help get rid of the ringworm faster:
Home remedies do not cure ringworm. However, they can be used to soothe the skin, relieve symptoms and speed up healing when used along with medication. The following can be applied to the infected area:
Because ringworm can spread easily, care should be taken both to avoid an infection in the first place and prevent others from catching it. Some steps to takes are: