What is ringworm?
This is a fungal infection that affects the skin. Ringworm is also called dermatophytosis. Ringworm is a misnomer because a fungus causes the infection instead of a worm. The name ringworm evolves from the shape of the would which appears like a ring.
Ringworm infection can affect both humans and animals. In the beginning, the infection appears as red patches on the affected areas of the skin only to be spread to other parts of the body. The most affected areas are the scalp, feet, nails, groin, beard, or others.
Recognizing ringworm symptoms
The appearance of the symptoms depends on the affected area. Some of the things to observe when you are infected are;
- Red, itchy, or scaly patches, or raised areas of skin called plaques
- Patches that develop blisters or pustules
- Patches that may be redder on the outside edges or resemble a ring
- Patches with edges that are defined and raised
When the nails are affected they may become thicker or discolored, or they may even begin to crack. This is called dermatophytes onychomycosis, or tinea unguium. The hair may break or fall off, and bald patches may develop if the scalp is affected. The medical term for this is tinea capitis.
Causes of ringworm
Ringworm can be caused by three types of fungi: Trichophyton, Microsporum, and Epidermophyton. The fungi inhabit the soil most of the time. Humans and animals can contract ringworm after direct contact with this soil.
The infection can also spread through contact with infected animals or humans. The spread of the infection is spread among children by sharing items harboring the fungus.
Names of ringworm
They are named according to the infected body parts;
- When the scalp is affected the ringworm is called tinea capitis it starts as isolated scaling in the scalp that develops into itchy, scaly bald patches. It mostly appears in children.
- When the ringworm affects the body it is called tinea corporis it appears as patches with the characteristic round ring shape.
- When the ringworm infection of the skin around the groin, inner thighs, and buttocks it is called Jock itch/tinea cruris. It is common in men and adolescent boys.
- When the ringworm affects the foot its called athlete’s foot /tinea pedis). In most cases, it affects the people who go barefoot in public places where the infection is dominant, such as locker rooms, showers, and swimming pools.
Getting a ringworm diagnosis
Ringworm can be diagnosed by examining your skin and possibly using a black light to view your skin in the affected area. Sometimes the infection may glow under black light spending on the fungi infection.
Some of the tests that diagnose ringworm are;
- When you are getting a skin biopsy or fungal culture, a sample of your skin or discharge from a blister will be taken and send it to a lab to test it for the presence of fungus.
- When getting a KOH exam, the doctor will scrape off a small area of infected skin onto a slide and place drops of a liquid called a potassium hydroxide (KOH) on it. The KOH breaks apart normal skin cells, making the fungal elements easier to see under a microscope and hence easier to diagnose.
Ringworm is only treated by medications and lifestyle adjustments.
The treatment depends on how severe your ringworm infection is. Jock itch, athlete’s foot, and ringworm of the body can all be treated with topical medications, such as antifungal creams, ointments, gels, or sprays.
Ringworm of the scalp or nails may require prescription-strength oral medications such as griseofulvin or terbinafine.
Over-the-counter (OTC) medications and antifungal skin creams may be advised for use as well. These products may contain substances such as clotrimazole, miconazole, terbinafine, or other related ingredients.
Ringworm infection can also be treated at home by doing the following;
- Wash your bedding and clothes daily during an infection to help disinfect your surroundings
- Drying areas thoroughly after bathing
- Wearing loose clothing in affected areas
- Treating all infected areas (not treating tinea pedis can lead to the recurrence of tinea cruris)
Ringworm home remedies
Home remedies for ringworm were also invented through antifungal treatments. Support for use of these remedies is mostly anecdotal. There is no scientific data to support their use over OTC antifungals.
Some of the home remedies include;
Apple cider vinegar
Some people apply apple cider vinegar-soaked cotton balls over affected areas of skin three times a day to treat ringworm.
Coconut oil is applied to the skin to reduce the incidence of ringworm infections.
Turmeric is a spice you can mix with water to make an antifungal paste. The paste is used directly to the skin.
A caution about home remedies
Home remedies should not be used in place of known antifungal treatments.
The ringworm infection is not visible right away. It can take up to 2 weeks before you start noticing symptoms. Some of the stages you may see include:
- Initial stage; in this stage, you may notice a pink or red irritated patch of skin. Sometimes, it just appears very dry and scaly not necessarily like ringworm.
- In the second stage; in this stage, you will notice the lesion starts to grow in size and increase your discomfort. The center of the rash may resemble healthy skin with a surrounding scaly area.
Note; Ringworm is so contagious. Treatment should start immediately to avoid its spread and growth.
Is ringworm contagious?
Ringworm infections are common in children. It is also common in owners of dogs and cats.
Signs of ringworm in cats and dogs include:
- Hairless patches of skin that appear circular
- Crusty or scaly patches
- Patches that may not be completely hairless but have brittle or broken hairs
- Opaque or whitish areas around the claws
Visit a veterinary if your pet is affected or if you have suspicions.
You may develop dermatophytosis if you come into contact with the fungi when your skin becomes soft and wet from prolonged water exposure (macerated) or if you have minor skin injuries or abrasions. Using a public shower or public pool may also expose you to the infective fungi and you might get infected.
If you are often barefoot, you may develop ringworm of the feet (athlete’s foot). Those who often share items such as hairbrushes or unwashed clothing also have an increased risk of developing the infection.
Ringworm vs. eczema
Nummular eczema is a condition that resembles Ringworm.
The similarities between Ringworm and Eczema is that they both cause round or coin-shaped lesions on the skin. The lesions are often itchy and scaly.
A person with ringworm usually has fewer ring-like patches than a person who has nummular eczema. Also, nummular eczema usually does not have a clearing in the center, while ringworm does.
Ringworm may also have pustules associated with it, while nummular eczema does not.
These two conditions are so similar in most cases. Nummular eczema is treated differently from ringworm. They use topical steroids, which are used for ringworm infections, can mask as well as worsen the infection. Antifungal ointments will not help nummular eczema.
Ringworm essential oils
Essential oils are highly concentrated extracts from flowers, herbs, and other plant types. Often, people purchase these oils and dilute them with a carrier oil, such as olive oil or coconut oil, before applying to their skin.
There is no scientific data to support the routine use of essential oils in treating antifungal infections like ringworm, only anecdotal evidence. Essential oils should be discussed with your doctor before use and shouldn’t replace conventional treatments.
Some of the essentials oils people use to treat ringworm include:
Oregano oil is potent and can potentially act as an antifungal. Take precautions not to apply it directly to your skin. You will need to mix it with coconut or olive oil to slightly dilute it first to avoid discomfort.
Lemongrass oil can act against ringworm. You must mix it with a carrier oil such as olive or coconut oil before applying it to the affected area to avoid any discomfort.
Tea tree oil
Tea tree oil is also believed to have antifungal properties. For ringworm, you can apply it to an affected area of skin at least three times a day. If you find that tea tree oil is too irritating, mix the oil in coconut oil to dilute it.
These are just some examples of essential oils used to relieve ringworm symptoms.
Ringworm vs. psoriasis
It is a skin condition that resembles ringworm. Plaque psoriasis is a disorder due to immune dysfunction that produces inflammatory plaques on the skin. It appears as pink plaques with heavy white scales. Small isolated plaques can sometimes look similar to ringworm.
Both ringworm and psoriasis can cause red patches of skin as well as skin itching and scaling.
However, ringworm on your trunk or limbs (tinea corporis) will usually have a circular appearance with clearing in the middle. It will also usually be an isolated spot (or limited to only a few lessons.
Plaque psoriasis skin lesions are usually larger, involve more areas of the skin, and occur in distinct locations (lower back, elbows, knees). Psoriasis lesions also do not have clearing (normal-appearing skin) in the middle of its lesions as ringworm lesions do: depicted in the pictures.
The conditions have different underlying causes as well. A fungus causes ringworm, while a dysfunctional immune system causes psoriasis.
Ringworm left untreated
Ringworm can spread first generally id left untreated. Other potential areas of complication include:
- Hair loss and scarring
- Nail deformities
The complications of tinea capitis (ringworm of the scalp) are especially worrisome since it can produce life-long permanent hair loss. When considering these potential complications, it is best to treat ringworm as quickly as possible.
Practicing healthy and hygienic behaviors can prevent ringworm. Infections may come from contact with animals and lack of proper hygiene. Here are several tips to avoid ringworm:
- Wash your hands after interacting with an animal.
- Disinfect and clean pet living areas.
- Avoid people or animals with ringworm if you have a weakened immune system.
- Wear shoes if showering or walking in community areas.
- Avoid sharing personal items like clothing or hairbrushes with people who might have ringworm.
- Keep your skin clean and dry.
Ringworm during pregnancy
If you get infected by ringworm during pregnancy, there are several medications that you can use to destroy ringworm-causing fungi that are known to be harmless for the baby. They are mostly taken to avoid complications. Examples of these drugs (fine to use when applied topically) include:
- Ciclopirox (Loprox)
- Clotrimazole (Lotrimin)
- Naftifine (Naftin)
- Oxiconazole (Oxistat)
It is advisable to take the doctors to advise on any medication you use during pregnancy. This is for the babies’ safety. Consult a doctor is highly advisable if you are breastfeeding.
Doctors do not recommend taking some medicines because they have the potential to cause known unwanted side effects. Examples of unrecommended medicines include:
- Oral ketoconazole
- Oral miconazole
Ringworm from dogs
Ringworm can also be spread by dogs. The spores get left behind on whatever the dog’s hair touches. Examples include:
- Dog brushes
- Food bowls
Wash your hands frequently after petting your dog to reduce infection risk whenever possible.
Ringworm from cats
Cats are more prone to getting ringworm than dogs are. They can pass the condition along with their human owners as well.
Same to dogs ringworm, if you spot ringworm in cats, call the veterinarian. They can prescribe antifungal treatments. You should also always wash your hands after petting your cat and try to clean all of the items they come in contact with, such as brushes and water bowls.
If you do get ringworm from your cat, you can treat it the same as you would any fungal infection. This includes topical antifungals.
Skin medications may clear ringworm on your trunk and limbs in 2 to 4 weeks.
If the type dermatophytosis you are experiencing is not responding to OTC treatments or treatment at home at all, or your suspicions it might be tinea infection of the scalp or hair follicles, your should take antifungal pills to clear up the infection.
This treatment is successful many times.