What Is Ringworm?
Ringworm, also known as dermatophytosis, dermatophyte infection, or tinea corporis, is a skin infection. As with candidiasis, folliculitis, and intertrigo, ringworm is a type of fungal infection. Contrary to what its name may suggest, if you have ringworm, you do not have a disease caused by worms. In fact, no worms are involved in this condition. The name "ringworm" likely comes from the ringworm rash produced when a patient is infected. The rash typically features a ring shape with a raised, scaly border that snakes its way around the edge of the rash.
Ringworm is common among both humans and animals alike. Ringworm in humans can appear anywhere on the body, including the palms, soles, scalp, groin, and nails. Patients who have previously experienced athlete's foot (tinea pedis), jock itch (tinea cruris), or scalp ringworm (tinea capitis) have already had ringworm (tinea corporis). The infection initially appears as red patches on affected areas of the skin and may later spread to other parts of the body.
What Causes Ringworm?
Ringworm is a contagious fungal infection caused by common mold-like parasites that live on cells in the outer layer of your skin. Three different types of fungi are deemed the primary ringworm causes. These fungi include Trichophyton, Microsporum, and Epiudermophyton and may live for an extended period, similar to spores within soil. Both humans and animals can contract ringworm following direct contact with infected soil. Alternatively, the infection can spread through contact with infected animals or humans. The infection is commonly spread among children and by adults sharing items that harbor the fungus. You are at higher risk of contracting ringworm of the body if you live in a warm climate; have close contact with an infected person or animal; share clothing, bedding, or towels with someone with ringworm; participate in sports that feature skin-to-skin contact; wear tight or restrictive clothing; and have a weakened immune system.
For those with ringworm of the nails, your nails may become thicker, discolored, or start to crack. This is called Dermatophytic onychomycosis, or tinea unguium. Additionally, those with scalp ringworm may experience hair breakage and fallout at the site of the infection, which may cause bald patches to develop. Symptoms of ringworm vary depending on the location of the infection. With a ringworm skin infection, you may experience the following.
- A Ringworm Rash
- Red, Itchy Skin Patches
- Scaly, Raised Skin Patches
- Blisters & Pustules
- Patches That Are Redder On The Edges
- Ring Or Circle-Shaped Rash
- Patches With Raises Or Defined Edges
The treatment for ringworm generally depends on its location on the body and whether you have a case of mild ringworm or severe ringworm. Some forms of ringworm can be treated with non-prescription or over-the-counter ringworm ointment, while other forms of ringworm require prescription antifungal treatments from your dermatologist. Ringworm of the skin, such as athlete's foot and jock itch, may be treated with non-prescription, antifungal ringworm cream, lotion, or powder applied to the skin for approximately 2–4 weeks. For non-prescription topical products, follow the directions on the label. Contact your healthcare provider if your infection does not go away or gets worse. An infection of the scalp usually requires prescription ringworm medicine, which is typically given in an oral form and taken for 1–3 months at a time. In most cases, creams, lotions, and powders cannot treat ringworm on the scalp. Be sure to contact your healthcare provider if the infection worsens or does not go away after using the medications.
How Long Does Ringworm Last?
The incubation period for ringworm in humans is typically 1–2 weeks. Because the fungal spores are present before you can see the ringworm outbreak, you may contract it from another person even before the infection displays visual signs on them. Many people and animals have ringworm but show no symptoms of it, and they may still transfer the infection to you. As long as fungal spores are present in the skin, ringworm can spread from person to person, animal to animal, and animal to person.
You are still contagious even when you start using antifungal medication. However, once you begin treatment and cover the lesions, you may significantly decrease your risk of spreading the condition to others. Unfortunately, there is no set time limit for a ringworm infection. Without proper treatment, the infection may go away on its own in a matter of months in a healthy person, or it may last for longer. With treatment, a ringworm infection on a part of the body without hair may clear up in 2–4 weeks of the start of treatment. In more severe cases and with infections of the scalp, you may require oral antifungal medication. In this case, you are still contagious until all the fungal spores are eliminated from your body.
How To Prevent Ringworm
Ringworm is difficult to prevent. The fungi that cause ringworm are common, and the condition can appear even before symptoms occur. Our dermatologists recommend taking these steps to reduce your risk of contracting and passing on ringworm of the body.
- Be aware of the risk of ringworm from infected people and animals.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water.
- Keep shared spaces clean and disinfected, especially in warm, humid areas.
- Avoid wearing thick clothing for long periods in warm, humid settings.
- Avoid excessive sweating.
- Do not come into contact with animals carrying the ringworm infection, which often looks like a patch of skin where fur is missing. If you believe your pet has ringworm, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian for treatment.
- Do not let others use your clothing, towels, hairbrush, sports gear, or other personal items.
- Wear protective clothing and gloves while working with soil to prevent contact with soil containing the infection.