Despite its name, ringworm is not caused by a worm. Ringworm is actually an infection caused by a fungus. It is called ringworm because it can cause a ring-shaped, red, itchy rash on the skin. Ringworm is also called tinea.
Ringworm mostly affects certain areas of the head, feet, groin and other forms affect other body parts.
One can catch ringworm from someone else who is infected, or even from an infected dog or cat. You can also pick it up from objects, such as a shower stall, locker room floor, or pool area that has the fungus. Plus, you can spread ringworm from one body part (such as your feet) to another (such as your groin).
If one has ringworm, their healthcare provider may be able to diagnose it just by looking at the rash. In some cases, scrapings of the rash are taken and looked at under a microscope to check for the fungus.
Ringworm infection of the head (scalp), also known as tinea capitis, usually causes a scaly, red rash that can lead to bald patches on the scalp. It usually affects children and only rarely affects adults.
Scalp infection is normally treated with prescription antifungal medicines that you take by mouth, and treatment can be for two to 12 weeks depending on the type of medication given and how well the infection responds to treatment.
To prevent ringworm of the scalp from recurring, it’s important to get rid of any combs, barrettes, or other hair products that could be harbouring the fungus. Family members should also be checked and treated, if necessary.
Some people can carry and spread the fungus but show no signs of infection; this person is called a carrier. In cases where the family pet is suspected to be the source of the infection, it’s also important to have the animal treated.
Ringworm infection of the feet, also known as tinea pedis, causes the skin on the feet, often between the toes, to become itchy, red, cracked, tender, and scaly. Sometimes it also causes blisters to form. People who have ringworm infection of the feet often also have the infection on their hands, under their nails, or on their groin.
Ringworm of the feet respond to most topical antifungal treatments, many of which are available without a prescription in form of cream/gel/lotion/powder, which is usually applied once or twice daily for up to four weeks. In severe or long-lasting cases, your healthcare provider may suggest an oral antifungal drug to be taken as well.
To improve comfort and reduce the chances of repeated infection, it is a good idea to use antifungal foot powders, both on the feet and in the shoes, and to wear open shoes, at least while the feet heal.
Ringworm infection of the groin usually starts by causing a red, itchy rash in the groin, the crease where the leg meets the trunk. From there, it can spread onto the thighs and toward the buttocks or anus. It is more common in men than in women, and it often surfaces during warm or hot weather, after a bout of heavy sweating. The most common source of this infection is the person transferring their own ringworm infection from the feet to the groin (athlete’s foot). Groin ringworm infection can be successfully treated with an antifungal cream/lotion/gel, most of which are available without a prescription. The treatment is usually applied once or twice per day for three to four weeks. It’s, however, essential to treat any other body area infected with ringworm at the same time; otherwise the groin infection will likely recur. During treatment, avoid tight-fitting clothes.
Ringworm infection can occur on other parts of the body other than the scalp, groin or feet and this often develops when the infection is transferred from another part of the body. It can also happen to parents who are caring for children with ringworm infection. It appears as a circular or oval scaly area. This infection usually responds to treatment with an antifungal cream/gel/lotion once or twice per day for one to two weeks
To prevent ringworm and other skin infections; do not share unwashed clothes, sports gear, or towels with other people, always wear slippers or sandals when at the gym, pool, or other public areas, wash with soap and shampoo after sports or exercise, change socks and underwear at least every day and keep your skin clean and dry. Always dry yourself well after swimming or showering and ensure immediate treatment for those infected with ringworm.
Dr. Ian Shyaka
Resident in Surgery, Rwanda Military Hospital,