Ringworm: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Ringworms or ringworm refer to fungal infections that occur on your skin’s surface. The condition derives its name from the early belief that the disease is triggered by a worm. Regardless of its creepy-crawly name, Tinea or ringworm is not caused by any type of worm. The real culprit behind it is a group of fungi referred to as dermatophytes, which lead to skin infections.

This fungal skin infection causes distinctive ring-like patterns and red spots on the skin. Some of these fungi also produce a rash.

Its medical term, Tinea, is the Latin name for a growing worm. Other names are added to this term to indicate the body parts where the fungus is located. For instance, tinea corporis indicates fungus of the body whereas tinea capitis points to scalp ringworm.

Other types of ringworm infections include tinea pedis or fungus of the feet and tinea cruris (commonly known as a jock itch) which is the fungus of the groin.

How Do We Get Ringworms?

Since ringworms are highly contagious, anyone can easily get the infection from a nearby patient. Some of the most common ways include:

  • By grooming or rubbing your pets. Make sure you wash your hands when you are finished.
  • It is also acquired from soil. Don’t work or stand barefoot in infected soil.
  • The infection also spreads by skin to skin contact.
  • You can also get ringworms by sharing clothes, towels, brushes and combs.

Even though ringworm appears on the skin or the scalp, it can also show on an individual’s toenails or fingernails. However, it doesn’t produce a ring-like pattern on the nails. But the affected nail becomes yellow, brittle and thick.

People who have this infection notice bumpy or red patches around the affected skin. If you get the infection on scalp, it may appear more or less like a red pimple. Even though children are more susceptible to ringworms, people of all ages can get infected with the fungus.

Ringworm is commonly spread in communal areas. For instance, if you swim in your local pool or share lockers in a gym, you can get infected. You don’t even have to touch an affected person’s hands. It is important that you don’t share towels or shirts with your friends, especially after a workout or game.

The fungus also lingers in brushes, hats and room floors.

Ringworm is cured with appropriate treatment. Skin ringworms are usually resolved in two to three weeks. However, it takes a few months to cure the ringworm of the scalp. There are fewer cases of complications where the infection is accompanied by a secondary bacterial infection. People who have weak immune systems are vulnerable to a widespread fungal infection.

Symptoms of Ringworm

The most obvious signs and symptoms of a ringworm infection include a scaly and red patch. Some people also experience an itchy bump on the skin’s surface. If left untreated, this bump takes the shape of a circle or ring shaped patch which branches into several other rings. The patch’s inside is usually scaly or clear. But the outside is bumpy or slightly raised.

Ringworm on the scalp generally starts out as a small sore or bump. But it soon turns scaly or flaky. The scalp feels sore and tender to the touch. The patient also notices that he/she begins to lose hair in patches.

Treatments of Ringworm

The type of treatment you need to cure a ringworm infection depends on the location of the infection and its severity. In some cases, your doctor may prescribe a drug. Sometimes, an over the counter drug is enough to treat the infection.

However, in case of jock itch or athlete’s foot, your doctor will recommend an anti-fungal lotion, cream or powder. Some popular ones include:

  • Miconazole Terbinafine
  • Clotrimazole
  • Ketoconazole

Some patients need to apply the medications on the skin for at least a month. Two to four weeks are enough to kill the fungus completely and lowers the risk of it coming back.

But OTC creams and lotions are not enough if you have ringworm on your scalp. Generally, patients need to take an anti-fungal medication by mouth for up to 2 to 3 months. Using an anti-fungal shampoo also helps cure the disease.

Terbinafine, Griseofulvin and Itraconazole are common oral medicines that doctors usually prescribe to their patients.

Terbinafine: These tablets work in most cases and patients have to take them once a day for at least a month. Some patients also experience a few side-effects including rashes, diarrhea and indigestion. However, if you have lupus or suffer from a liver disease, your doctor will not prescribe you this medication.

Griseofulvin: This medication is also available in the form of a spray. You will have to consume it for at least 10 weeks to get noticeable results. Common side-effects include nausea, headache and indigestion.

Avoid the medication if you are pregnant or are breastfeeding since it can lead to birth defects. It is also important for men to use condoms for up to 6 months after the treatment is over.

Griseofulvin may also interfere with birth control pills. Avoid drinking alcohol or driving when you are on this medication.

Itraconazole: Doctors do not prescribe this pill to children, old patients and individuals with severe liver diseases. If it’s prescribed to you, you will have to take it for a week or two to cure the infection. Common side-effects include indigestion, nausea, vomiting and headache.

If your symptoms don’t get better or you experience severe side-effects, get in touch with your doctor to seek an alternative.

How Can I Prevent Ringworm?

Unfortunately, ringworm is a contagious disease. It is easier to get the infection if you get in touch with an affected surface or piece of clothing.

But you can take a few measures to prevent the infection. Here are a few tips to follow:

  • Keep flip-flops in your locker rooms to use in gym showers
  • Do not share towels or clothes with other people
  • Wear washed socks and underwear every day
  • Keep your sports gear and uniform clean and don’t share it with your team members
  • Make sure you wash your hands with water and soap after playing with your pets. Contact a vet if your pet is infected with ringworm
  • Keep your skin dry and clean

Final Thoughts

If you suspect you have having ringworms on any part of your body, check with your doctor who will conduct a physical examination of the affected area. The doctor may also evaluate skin scrapings under the microscope and order culture tests to make the appropriate diagnosis. Do not start any medication before getting a proper diagnosis.

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