Ringworm is a fungal infection of the skin. The name “ringworm” is a misnomer, since the infection is caused by a fungus, not a worm. Ringworm infection can affect humans as well animals. The infection initially presents with red patches on affected areas of the skin and later on spreads to other parts of the body. The infection may affect the skin of the scalp, feet, groin, beard, or other areas. Here is what you need to know.
Is ringworm contagious?
Ringworm occurs in people of all ages. However, it is particularly common in children. It occurs most often in warm, moist climates. Ringworm is a contagious disease and can be passed from person to person by contact with infected skin areas or by sharing brushes, personal care items, or clothing. Also, it is possible to become infected with ringworm after coming in contact with locker room or pool surfaces. The infection can affect dogs and cats, and pets may transmit the infection to humans. It is common to have several areas of ringworm at once in different body areas.
With a skin infection, you may experience the following:
- red, itchy, scaly, or raised patches
- patches that develop blisters or begin to ooze
- patches that may be redder on the outside edges or resemble a ring
Ringworm is caused by a type of fungus that eats keratin. These are called dermatophytes. Dermatophytes attack the skin, scalp, hair, and nails because those are the only parts of the body with enough keratin to attract them. Dermatophytes are microscopic spores that can survive on the surface of the skin for months. They can also survive in towels, combs, the soil, and other household objects. They are very resilient.
If a person or animal has this infection, they may deposit fungal spores on objects and surfaces when they touch them. Children usually show symptoms when they become infected, but many adults do not. The older an individual is, the more likely their immune system will protect them. However, they may still be a carrier.
Types of ringworm
Ringworm can go by different names depending on the part of the body affected.
- Ringworm of the scalp (tinea capitis) often starts as small sores that develop into itchy, scaly bald patches. It is most common among children.
- Ringworm of the body (tinea corporis) often appears as patches with the characteristic round “ring” shape.
- Jock itch (tinea cruris) refers to ringworm infection of the skin around the groin, inner thighs, and buttocks. It is most common in men and adolescent boys.
- Athlete’s foot (tinea pedis) is the common name for ringworm infection of the foot. It is often seen in people who go barefoot in public places where the infection can spread, such as locker rooms, showers, and swimming pools.
The treatment for ringworm depends on where the infection is on your body and how severe it is. In many cases, the doctor may recommend a drug you can buy over-the-counter at your local drugstore.
If the infection is on your skin – as in the case of athlete’s foot or jock itch – your doctor will likely suggest an OTC antifungal cream, lotion, or powder. Some of the most popular include:
Skin medications may clear ringworm in two to four weeks. If you’re experiencing severe dermatophytosis that isn’t responding to over-the-counter treatments or treatment at home, your doctor may prescribe antifungal pills in order to clear up the infection. Most people respond positively to treatment.