When you hear the term ‘ringworm’ what probably comes to mind is a worm or an insect. However, that is not the case. Ringworm in humans is of different types, but in all of the cases, it is a fungal skin infection that forms on the uppermost layer of the skin. What happens when you get ringworm is typically a raised, red, circular and itchy rash surrounding a patch of healthy skin in its center. Thus, the condition has nothing to do with a ‘worm’ but it does look as if one is ‘crawling’ beneath the skin.
As mentioned before, ringworm is of different types depending upon the parts of the body it infects. On the foot, it leads to a condition known as Athlete’s Foot; in the groin region it gives rise to Jock’s Itch. Additionally, it might infect the scalp leading to hair loss and bald patches.
What happens when ringworm occurs? Signs and symptoms
- As mentioned earlier, a circular red colored rash appears on the skin. This may be inflamed or extremely itchy. It surrounds clear and healthier skin in its center.
- On the face and stomach as well as the trunk region, ringworm infections appear as raised and expanding rings of red, scaly skin.
- There might be more than one patch and sometimes these patches also overlap each other.
- Some people might still have ringworm infection which is not characterized by a red ring.
Are you at risk from ringworm and when should you see a doctor?
Any ringworm infection that does not improve or go away in a couple of weeks must be attended to by a doctor. The question of whether you are at risk depends on whether your family members or pets have ringworm infections. Ringworm is contagious and occurs due to contact with infected hair combs, clothes, socks, towels etc. Here is a summary of ways in which ringworm infections spread:
- Human to human contact– As stated before, many patients wish to know if they are at a risk of ringworm infections. The answer lies in the fact that if their loved ones have it, chances of them getting it are higher.
- Pets/Wild animals to humans– Animals also suffer from dermatophytic infections which they can inadvertently spread to humans. Petting or touching infected cats, dogs, goats, rabbits and horses etc can all lead to this skin infection.
- Through infected surfaces– The risk of getting ringworm infections increase when one comes in contact with combs, brushes, towels, razors, socks etc of infected people.
- Through the soil– Humans coming in contact with fungal spores through the soil can also be at a risk from ringworm. This is a rarer way of getting ringworm.
Ringworm: Are you at a higher risk?
Some factors greatly increase the risk of ringworm. For example:
- People living in humid, wet and crowded conditions are at higher risk of ringworm.
- People in close contact with infected animals or humans.
- People with a tendency to sweat excessively.
- Sportspeople wearing tight clothing, underwear, shoes or sweaty socks for longer periods also risk it. Wrestlers participating in contact sports are also at higher risk.
- People with a weakened immunity are more prone to fungal skin infections of this type.
Complications from ringworm
Most fungal infections of the skin clear away within weeks of using the right medication (and by taking precautions to prevent recurrence). In some people with already weakened immune systems, or those having diseases like HIV, it is more difficult to get rid of them. Ringworm of the scalp or of the nails can lead to more permanent and lasting complications including permanent hair loss, broken or damaged nail bed etc.
What can you do for treating ringworm?
You can start by applying over-the-counter antifungal creams, lotions or shampoos to the affected area on the skin and scalp. If the infection does not start to clear, or spreads despite such treatment, then you must see a doctor. Most fungal infections can be treated using prescription topical (lotions, creams or sprays) or oral (capsules, pills or tablets) antifungal medicines. The right kind of medicine as well as the duration of the treatment will be decided by your doctor.
Are you at risk of recurring ringworm? How can you prevent it?
Majority of ringworm cases recur within a short span of time after completion of treatment. Direct contact with infected animals, people or surfaces is the most common reason behind this. As soon as symptoms arise, it is essential to start the right treatment. This can prevent the infection from spreading.
Here are some more steps to prevent risk of re-infection:
- Read up and educate yourself about ringworm infections. Discuss your doubts with your doctor. Also educate your loved ones. This can help everyone take preventive measures and minimize risk of recurrence.
- Wash your hands and bathe regularly.
- Change underwear frequently. Wash all infected clothing in hot water and little bleach.
- Avoid wearing tight sweaty clothing, socks and shoes for long periods of time.
- Treat infected pets. Teach children not to touch or pet animals having ringworm.
- Do not share items with infected family members or friends. These specifically include clothes, combs, towels, hair brushes etc.
For more information on what happens when you get ringworm and to assess whether you are at risk, visit other resources provided on this website.