Ringworm is a skin infection caused by a family of fungi called dermatophytes. Unlike its misleading name, ringworm does not consist of any ‘worm’ but is characterized by a scaly red and itchy rash that does appear as if a worm is living under the skin’s surface.
In this guide, we will consider telltale ringworm signs that everyone should be aware of. This knowledge can come in handy in order to take quick remedial steps and prevent further complications.
Ringworm signs and symptoms
- Ringworm, as stated above, causes an itchy, red and scaly rash that may soon develop into crusts. The red rash forms circular lesions with a clearing in the center having healthy skin.
- Depending on the body part where the infection occurs, there may be hair loss.
- Sometimes, ringworm infection also leads to itchy blisters that are rather painful.
- Ringworm infections are called Tinea in medical parlance. Tinea occurs on different parts of the body, mainly the feet, nails, groin or even on the beard and scalp.
- Accordingly, different names have been given to these infections such as Tinea Pedis (or Athlete’s foot where the fungus mainly affects the feet) or Tinea Cruris (or groin ringworm called Jock’s Itch).
- Jock’s Itch and Athelte’s Foot are both characterized by red itchy pustules in the groin and feet region respectively. These rashes are very itchy, scaly and often painful.
- Ringworm signs are mainly seen in athletes, sportspeople, swimmers and wrestlers, mainly because they tend to remain in sweaty, moist and humid conditions for hours.
- Ringworm is believed to be contagious; thus if one family member is suffering from it, it can spread easily to others. This is the main reason why people participating in contact sports are prone to it.
- Ringworm infections can also occur in people who need to use common washrooms, public pools, or in those who walk bare-feet on wet surfaces or floors near public baths, swimming pools etc. This is because the dermatophyte fungi thrive and survive on these wet/moist surfaces.
- Ringworm infections are also common in younger children particularly in ones who wear wet sweaty socks or underwear for long hours.
- Some cases of ringworm can occur when one comes in contact with soil having the fungi present in it.
- Some ringworm signs and symptoms are also seen in the beard region. The ringworm affecting the facial hair tends to be characterized by patchy hair loss or broken and bent hair follicles.
- Ringworm signs can also be seen in pets: these are characterized by extreme itchiness, flaking and loss of fur. Humans coming in close contact with such infected pets are also at a greater risk of developing signs and symptoms of ringworm.
- On the nails, ringworm affects the nail plate leading to yellow, black or discolored nails. In some cases, there is yellowish powdery discharge from the infected nail bed. The nails become brittle and can break or fall off completely. Ringworm of the nails is contagious and also very painful.
- Often times, the signs and symptoms of ringworm are very similar to other skin infections leading to misdiagnosis. Mainly, they resemble psoriasis, eczema or other common skin rashes.
What to do if you see signs and ringworm symptoms?
You can start by applying over-the-counter antifungal creams containing Clotrimazole, Miconazole or Terbinafine.
Ringworm of the scalp and hair– If you are suffering from ringworm signs on your scalp, it might be characterized by dandruff, itching and hair loss. You could use Ketoconazole based shampoo for washing hair. Apply the shampoo by rubbing it in, leave it on for 5 minutes, and then wash off as usual. Repeat the treatment thrice a week for 4 to 6 weeks or until the infection clears.
Ringworm on skin– Apply the antifungal cream/lotion/powder after bathing and drying the affected part gently. In case of Athlete’s foot (affecting the toe nails and feet), dust the antifungal powder liberally over the region. Make sure to prevent sweating by changing socks frequently (or going without shoes whenever possible). For inflamed skin (or infections causing great deal of pain) you might need prescription based steroidal ointments for healing.
Ringworm of the beard– Keep the hair trimmed as far as possible. Apply cream by rubbing it in the hair. Let the cream remain on the skin. Repeat application at least thrice daily for a period of 4 to 6 weeks.
How long does a ringworm infection last?
Most mild cases of ringworm symptoms and signs fade within weeks of using the antifungal cream treatment. Make sure to rub in the cream really well so that it can get to the fungi. In some cases, the infection might recur. Try as far as possible to avoid the trigger factors that cause ringworm (avoiding moist and sweaty conditions, contact sports, walking bare feet on wet floors, sharing infected items etc).
When should you see a doctor?
You must see a doctor when the ringworm symptoms show no signs of clearing despite taking the aforementioned precautions and applying over the counter medicines. Some cases of ringworm are severe and might need prescription drugs. Oral antifungal medicines might also be needed, especially if the rash is recurrent. Also children under the age of 12 with ringworm signs often do not respond to certain kinds of antifungal drugs. Hence, it is best to seek the advice of a medical practitioner.