What is Ringworm?
Ringworm (medical name, Tinea) is a common skin condition caused by a fungal infection. It produces a red rash and a distinctive ring shape to appear.
Ringworm develops on many areas of the body and is highly contagious. The good news is it’s easy for your doctor or health care professional to diagnose and to treat.
There are 5 types of ringworm:
- Scalp ringworm
- Body ringworm
- Foot ringworm
- Groin ringworm
- Nail ringworm
This causes small, red, scaly patches to develop on the scalp. These are itchy and sore and can cause hair loss. Serious cases cause pus filled sores to develop, accompanied by a fever and swollen glands.
This is a red, ring shaped rash on the body which is severe cases, is raised above the skin, itchy and liable to form blisters.
Believe it or not, Ringworm is actually a form of “Athlete’s Foot,” which is a red, itchy, flaky rash between the toes, caused by warm or moist environments like showers, changing rooms or saunas.
Severe cases of foot ringworm cause swelling and cracked skin between the toes, and small blisters that may ooze or crust over. This causes a burning sensation in and around the sides of your foot.
A form of “jock itch,” groin ringworm causes small, reddish-brown sores to form in the genital area, inner thighs and buttocks. These form an itchy red rash which becomes scaly and flakes, particularly on the inner thigh. This is exacerbated by tight underwear, sweating and exercise.
Very often, groin and foot ringworm can develop at the same time, due to the easy transference of the fungal infection from groin to foot or vice versa. This often happens if you have scratched one area and then touch another area.
This is an infection of the nails which causes discoloration, a thick white coating and soreness in the surrounding area. The nails become crumbly and start to fall off.
How Infectious is Ringworm?
Ringworm is VERY infectious and spreads from one person to another via direct contact, or sharing bedding, towels etc. Even pets, such as cats and dogs, get ringworm, and what most people don’t know is they can pass it onto you or other people who become exposed. If your pet contracts ringworm, it’s important to isolate them from other pets and people until the condition is treated and clears up. A good vet can assist you with pet related ringworm.
Is Ringworm Common?
Yes, it is relatively common. It roughly affects about 20% of the population. Children and younger people are more affected by the condition.
Ringworm is caused by a fungal infection, which thrives on direct contact with Keratin, a tissue in the skin, hair, nails, and many other parts of the body. This is why ringworm develops in those areas so heavily. The fungal infection consists of microscopic spores, which get spread via people or animals. Touching an infected object or handling infected soil can trigger the condition, and these life span of these spores can lay dormant or incubation for 6 to 8 months!
Unfortunately, it is possible to be a carrier of ringworm without displaying any of the symptoms. If you are a parent and have built up an immunity to the condition, you can actually pass the infection onto others, particularly children.
Who is At Risk of Getting Ringworm?
- People who have had ringworm before
- Young children
- The elderly
- People of African-Caribbean race (scalp ringworm only)
- Overweight or obese
- People with Type 1 diabetes
- Poor circulation
- Hardening of the arteries
- Poorly functioning immune system caused by a medical condition, e.g. HIV.
- Receiving cancer treatment, e.g. chemotherapy
- Certain types of medication which weakens your immunity, e.g. steroids.
If you fall into any of categories don’t hesitate to contact your doctor or health care professional immediately.
There are several types of ringworm, but they all produce the same symptoms – red, itchy, irritated skin, possible blisters that may leak fluid (like pus and other toxins). Ringworm is easy to diagnose and treat. Your doctor will examine you and then ask you questions about your medical and family history. If you have children, he or she will ask you about their health history, as well.
In certain cases, a skin biopsy may be performed. That means a small section of skin containing the rash is removed from your scalp or affected body part. This sample is then sent for laboratory analysis and will determine the exact type of ringworm contracted.
Treatment for ringworm depends upon the type, but usually includes anti-fungal creams/shampoos, medication and personal hygiene tips.
- Scalp: If you have scalp ringworm, you will most likely be prescribed an anti-fungal shampoo along with prescription tablets. Anti-fungal shampoos stop the fungal infection from spreading, but is not a cure for the condition.
- Body: Body ringworm is treated with creams, lotions, gels or sprays, which can be purchased from your pharmacist. These are applied to the areas affected by the rash for a set period of time.
The main risk with this infection is that it spreads from one part of the body to another. This is more likely if your immune system is below par or you fail to take steps to prevent it from spreading. There is a risk of scarring with scalp ringworm but this is rare.
Personal hygiene is absolutely crucial. Ringworm is very infectious so follow these hygienic tips:
- Changing socks and underwear daily.
- Bathing is critical. That means washing the infected areas on a daily basis is essential.
- Wash bedding, towels and clothes frequently, and keep these separate from others.
- Wear loose fitting cotton clothing.
- Avoid tight fitting underwear (groin ringworm).
- Ask everyone in your family to check for signs of ringworm.
- Do not scratch or pick at areas of infected skin.
- If you have a baby or young child with scalp ringworm, be sure to wash their hair with an anti-fungal shampoo at least twice a week. Your doctor will assist you with treatment for children.
- If you have a cat or dog with ringworm get them to your local vet as soon as possible. Patches of missing fur can be a sign of ringworm.
For the most part, this is a mainly mild condition, which is easy to treat if you take the necessary steps. However, as with any disease, it’s imperative to consult your doctor or health care professional immediately if you suspect a ringworm outbreak. It can become very serious if not immediately treated.