Ringworm is a common fungal infection of the skin, but though it is called a worm infection, it is actually caused by a fungus. Since it can affect different parts of the body, ringworm infections have different names based on the part of the body that is affected: tinea corporis (skin); tinea pedis (foot), tinea cruris (groin), tinea capitis (scalp) and tinea barbae (beard). Children may be more susceptible to these infections but they are also seen in adults.
Causes and Symptoms of Ringworm Infections
Ringworm infections can be caused by several fungi species that are collectively called dermatophytes or skin fungi. The fungus thrives in warm, humid conditions and may infect areas like the feet or neck that may be sweatier than other parts of the body; they are also extremely contagious.
The infection can spread by coming into direct contact with an infected person, or even with items like combs, bedding linens and unwashed clothing used by the individual. The infection can be contracted from pets and domestic animals that carry the fungus too.
The symptoms of ringworm depend on the part of the body that is affected:
An infection on the skin often produces round spots that are a classic symptom of a ringworm infection. It’s characterized by an itchy, red circular rash around a patch of healthy skin.
This is mostly seen in children where the infected area looks like a bald patch with small black dots where the hair has broken off. Other symptoms include pus-filled sores and a fever hovering around 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Also called athlete’s foot, the condition can cause the skin to crack and may make the toes white, soggy and itchy. Moccasin-type athlete’s foot doesn’t cause itching, but vesicular or blistered athlete’s foot causes itchy fluid-filled blisters that occur between the toes and on the arch and sides of the foot.
An infection in the groin area causes itching in the groin and surrounding areas and can cause red, raised, scaly patches that may ooze.
An infection of the beard causes swelling and marked crusting on the skin, which is often accompanied by itching and breaking of the hair strands.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Ringworm Infections
A simple examination is usually enough for diagnosing the different types of ringworm infections, but if required doctors may consider:
- A potassium hydroxide test
- A skin lesion biopsy
- Skin culture
The treatment options for an infection include:
- Medications like anti-fungal creams or powders are applied on clean, dry skin.
- Scalp and beard infections require slightly different strategies like oral medications to get rid of the fungus and medicated shampoos. Ringworm infections of the beard may benefit from warm compresses that can help drain the affected follicles. Oral antibiotics or creams may also be useful.
- Natural remedies like tea tree oil and aloe have antiseptic, antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal properties.
Ringworm is difficult to prevent because it is caused by a common and highly contagious fungus, but you could take precautionary steps like showering after working out, using clean towels, keeping your feet clean and dry, avoiding contact with infected individuals and staying away from animals that show signs of an infection (patches of missing fur).
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